Cruella Review

Cruella movie posterSynopsis
Estella (Emma Stone) is an up-and-coming fashion designer. She gets her big break when The Baroness (Emma Thompson) recognizes her talent. However, to rise in the fashion world, Estella will have to go through The Baroness.

Review
I’ll be honest, when it was announced that Emma Stone was going to play Cruella de Vil, I couldn’t see her playing the young villainess. However, being the Emma Stone fan that I am, I was all in. I don’t know why I had any doubts because Stone was brilliant and well worth the price of admission alone.

While Cruella does follow in the footsteps of films like Maleficent and tell the origin of its villainess, it breaks away by not making her a sympathetic character like what happens to Maleficent in her film. Cruella is a villain through and through and this film doesn’t try to convince you otherwise. Cruella is all about Estalla embracing her madness and her transformation into the villain we see in 101 Dalmatians. I’m really glad Disney took this approach because someone who wants to skin puppies does not need to be sympathetic in any capacity. Sometimes a villain can be bad for bad’s sake. This movie adds layers to Cruella without taking away from her character in the other films.

As I said before, I am a big fan of Emma Stone and she absolutely slays in this film. Her turn into the villainous Cruella is one of her best transformations to date. I normally associate Stone with the more β€œgood” characters but after this film, I can see her taking up more antagonistic roles in the future, and I’m all for it! Across from Stone was the other Emma of the movie, Emma Thompson, who might have just stolen the film from Stone (which is saying something given how fantastic Stone was). Being a bigger bad than Cruella de Vil is a tough task but Thompson tackles that task with ease. Thompson is another actress that I don’t usually associate with being an antagonist and that just goes to show her acting ability to pick up any type of role and make it absolutely brilliant.

Cruella clocks a run time of over two hours but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It has a kinetic energy about it that keeps the film always moving and never really slowing down. Despite this, it never feels disjointed or jarring. Each scene flows into the next, carrying the energy from the scene before. The progression of of Estella’s decent to her Cruella persona feels smooth as the film progresses as well.

Now, for what may be my favorite part of the film: the costume design. Holy smokes is the costume design fantastic! I guess that should be no surprise given that Cruella is all about a fashion designer. So many of Cruella’s outfits are simply gorgeous and look amazing. Not to be outdone, The Baroness and Artie (John McCrea) have wonderful costumes as well. I don’t often comment on costume design so this movie definitely deserves recognition at the next Academy Awards.

I thought Cruella was GOOD πŸ™‚ As far as the recent slate of Disney’s live-action films go, this is definitely up there as one of the better ones. Even though it is a prequel, it doesn’t force much into the story just to align the characters to where they need to be. Instead it tells its own story that still fits within the larger canon. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson carry the film with their amazing villainous turns. The supporting cast of Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, and John McCrea hold their own with the two leading ladies. Topped off with an engaging story, as well as dazzling and lavish costume design, Cruella delivers on creating a compelling story for one of Disney’s most vile villains.

Favorite Quote
Artie: I like to say that β€˜normal’ is the cruelest insult of them all, and at least I never get that.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Craig Gillespie – Director
Dana Fox – Screenplay
Tony McNamara – Screenplay
Aline Brosh McKenna – Story
Kelly Marcel – Story
Steve Zissis – Story
Nicholas Britell – Composer

Emma Stone – Estella / Cruella
Emma Thompson– The Baroness
Joel Fry – Jasper
Paul Walter Hauser – Horace
John McCrea – Artie
Mark Strong – The Valet
Kayvan Novak – Roger
Kirby Howell-Baptiste – Anita Darling
Emily Beecham – Catherine / Maid
Ed Birch – Baroness Head of Security

Mortal Kombat (2021) Review

Mortal Kombat (2021) movie posterSynopsis
Cole Young (Lewis Tan) finds himself embroiled in a multi-dimensional tournament known as Mortal Kombat, fighting for the fate of Earth.

Review
Adapting a movie from a game franchise has had notoriously poor results. Some have fared okay while most have been disastrous. Thankfully, the latest adaptation of the popular fighting game of the same name finds itself on the better side as far as video game adaptations go. Mortal Kombat is by no means a thought-provoking or life-changing movie, but it does provide a good two hours worth of popcorn entertainment. The film opens with a brutal scene set in seventeenths century Japan, setting up that this film will be just as violent as the game series it is adapting. This movie actually does a good job of balancing the action scenes with character scenes. Unfortunately, because the film does provide a lot of time for character development, there are pacing issues towards the latter portion of the film when the movie finally gets to, and rushes through, the β€œtournament.”

The Mortal Kombat games have been around for nearly 30 years and has a roster consisting of dozens of characters that the film can pull from. Thankfully, it only uses a handful of these characters as to not overwhelm the story with trying to fit as many characters as possible. There are bound to be fan favorites left out but if they’re lucky, they’ll see their favorite characters in any potential sequels. There are also many easter eggs and homages throughout Mortal Kombat that audiences are sure to pick up, whether they are casual or hardcore fans of the games. Some of these call outs did feel forced but overall their inclusions were a nice touch.

I thought Mortal Kombat was GOOD πŸ™‚ If you are a fan of the game franchise, there is going to be a lot here that you’re going to enjoy. The focused cast, stylishly violent action sequences, and plenty of humor from Josh Lawson combine for a fierce and entertaining ride from start to finish.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Simon McQuoid – Director
Greg Russo – Screenplay / Story
Dave Callaham – Screenplay
Oren Uziel – Story
Benjamin Wallfisch – Composer

Lewis Tan – Cole Young
Jessica McNamee – Sonya Blade
Mehcad Brooks – Jax
Josh Lawson – Kano
Ludi Lin – Liu Kang
Max Huang – Kung Lao
Tabanobu Asano – Lord Raiden
Hiroyuki Sanada – Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion
Laura Bent – Allison
Matilda Kimber – Emily
Jose Taslim – Bi-Han / Sub-Zero
Chin Han – Shang Tsung
Sisi Stringer – Mileena
Mel Jarnson – Nitara
Nathan Jones – Reiko
Daniel Nelson – Kabal
Ian Streetz – Ramirez

Raya and the Last Dragon Review

Raya and the Last Dragon movie posterSynopsis
In a hope to rid the world of evil spirits known and the Druun, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) searches for Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon.

Review
With theaters slowly opening up, I looked to book tickets to Raya and the Last Dragon at a local theater. To my surprise, none of them around me were showing the film! I would have thought that the Disney brand would for sure have filled seats so it didn’t make sense that a theater would not be showing their latest movie. But alas, I settled for watching it on Disney+, which was a shame because the allure and scale of this movie deserved to be seen on the big screen.

From the get-go, it’s clear that Raya and the Last Dragon isn’t going to be like other Disney princess films. There are no dance numbers here. The first scene is an explosive fight sequence from a young Raya with choreography that rivals live-action martial arts films. From there, the action sequences only get better. There is also a grander sense of adventure that most Disney princess films, save maybe Moana. This higher sense of adventure and action lends for a pretty fast-paced film. At an hour and a half run time, a lot is packed into it. The fight scenes between Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and Namaari (Gemma Chan) especially are exciting. Since it is shown early on that these two could have become friends, their scenes are particularly emotional because you have a sense of the relationship these two could have had.

As Raya travels throughout the land of Kumandra, she recruits a new member for her adventuring group from each of the lands. Every one of these characters was fun and brought something unique to the group. Most of their motivations for joining the group are based around their lives being affected in some way by the Druun, the evil spirits who turn people to stone, and not much more. While it may seem thin, it is enough and works in the film. The point of the story is that people from different backgrounds from all across the land trust each other and work together, which is one of the central themes of the movie.

Disney has clearly found an animation style that it likes. Much of the character design in Raya and the Last Dragon is similar to recent Disney animated films such as Frozen II and Moana. However, that doesn’t take away from its beauty. The world of Kumandra absolutely pops with vibrant colors. There are a variety of atmospheres, from deserts, to a water village, to a mountain village and many places in-between. Each place feels unique and full of life. Sisu’s character design is simply gorgeous, combining elegance with strength. Unfortunately, regardless of how beautiful the movie looks, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve seen the style of animation before, taking away some of the awe of it all.

For as exciting and empowering as this film is, my biggest issue with it is the same issue I had with last year’s Onward, and that is that it lacked that big emotional moment for me. While it is full of emotion, there wasn’t that one moment that the truly great Disney or Pixar films have that pull at the heartstrings. Also, it had a Moana vibe to me. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since I think Moana is Disney’s best film to date. However, because of that feeling of familiarity, it took away some of the uniqueness of Raya and the Last Dragan.

I thought Raya and the Last Dragon was GOOD πŸ™‚ It is immediately apparent that Raya isn’t like most princesses in the Disney canon. Starting with a gripping action scene, this film offers one of the most exciting and adventurous films from Disney in a long time, which is saying something. The animation, while gorgeous, feels familiar when compared to films like Frozen II and Moana. The biggest thing missing from this movie was that one, big emotionally impactful moment Disney films are known for. Despite these minor gripes, Raya and the Last Dragon is a tremendous addition to Disney’s princess library, full of adventure, as well as fun and memorable characters. This princess doesn’t need a musical number and that’s perfectly okay.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Don Hall – Director / Story
Carlos Lopez Estrada – Director / Story
Paul Briggs – Co-Director / Story
John Ripa – Co-Director / Story
Qui Nguyen – Screenplay / Story
Adele Lim – Screenplay / Story
Kiel Murray – Story
Dean Wellins – Story
James Newton Howard – Composer

Kelly Marie Tran – Raya (voice)
Awkwafina – Sisu (voice)
Gemma Chan – Namaari (voice)
Daniel Dae Kim – Benja (voice)
Izaac Wang – Boun (voice)
Benedict Wong – Tong (voice)
Thalia Tran – Little Noi (voice)
Sandra Oh – Virana (voice)
Alan Tudyk – Tuk Tuk (voice)
Jona Xiao – Young Namaari (voice)

Saboteur Review

Saboteur movie posterSynopsis
When Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is framed for sabotage, he sets out to prove his innocence.

Review
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I set a movie goal for 2021. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, well, now you know that I set a movie goal for 2021 (but also you should go follow me on Twitter *wink wink*). That goal is to watch twelve Alfred Hitchcock films throughout the year; that’s roughly one a month for you math wizzes. The first in that endeavor is Hickcock’s 1942 film Saboteur.

When I hear the name β€œHitchcock,” the first thought that comes to mind is β€œsuspense.” And the kind of suspense I think about is the horror brand of suspense. Not being well-versed in Hitchcock’s films, that was much too narrow of thought. While I wouldn’t call Saboteur β€œsuspenseful,” I would call it β€œexciting.” This film did a great job of not letting the audience know anymore than Barry (Robert Cummings) about what the larger picture was. Maybe I’m used to the quick cuts of today’s cinema but the way the characters and scenes were framed made things tense and dramatic. It wasn’t the type of suspense I was expecting from a Hitchcock film but it kept me on edge nonetheless.

Something that I didn’t expect were how big some of the smaller scenes felt. For example, there is a scene were Barry meets a man named Philip Martin, played by Caughan Glaser. For most of the scene, it’s just the two of them, before Philip’s niece Pat (Priscilla Lane) enters the scene. Even though scenes like this are quieter, there is still an element of suspense to them. But more than that, they had a larger context within the story, fleshing out characters and relationships.

Speaking of relationships, Cummings and Lane were such a great pair. The two of them had a natural chemistry that made their scenes enjoyable to watch. The relationship between Barry and Pat felt a bit forced at times but luckily Cummings and Lane made it feel less out of place.

Besides the two leads, another standout performance was Otto Kruger as the villainous Charles Tobin. Some of the most terrifying villains are the ones who do not look like villains on the surface and Kruger played into that role wonderfully. He was just the right mix of suave and charm with malice and menace. You never knew exactly what he was thinking or what he was planning until it was too late.

After I finished watching the movie, I watched some of the special features on the disk. In one of the featurettes, it described how some of the special effects for the film were achieved. I think special effects are something we take for granted these days, or at least I do, with everything being done on the computer these days. I tend to forget that back in the early days, directors and cinematographers had to get creative to accomplish effects that would be simple these days. And watching and learning how it was done in this film gave me a greater appreciation in how movies were created before CGI came along.

Throughout the film, β€œthe organization” is constantly referenced. We even meet several of the leaders of the organization in Charles Tobin and Mrs. Sutton (Alma Kruger). Tobin also explains what their plan is that Barry stumbles onto. However, there is no explanation given as to why or what the organization’s overall goal is. Given the film’s early World War II setting, it could be inferred it has something to do with assisting the Axis powers but no real details are provided. It is left very vague. Although, maybe that was the point?

I thought Saboteur was GOOD πŸ™‚ As my first dip into Hitchcock’s work (well, my second, I watched Birds years ago), it was exciting to open my eyes to the depth of Hitchcock’s abilities. While not the suspense I was expected, I was captivated nevertheless. Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane carry the film with fantastic performances, and Otto Kruger keeps pace as the villain across Cummings and Lane. While I would have liked to learn more about β€œthe organization,” their anonymity and mystery give another layer of suspense to the film. All in all, not a bad start to my journey through Hitchcock’s filmography.

Trivia
This was the first movie in which Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s name was billed above the title. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
Peter Viertel – Screenplay
Joan Harrison – Screenplay
Dorothy Parker – Screenplay
Frank Skinner – Composer

Robert Cummings – Barry Kane
Priscilla Lane – Patricia (Pat) Martin
Otto Kruger – Charles Tobin
Alan Baxter – Freeman
Clem Bevans – Neilson
Norman Lloyd – Frank Fry
Alma Kruger – Mrs. Henrietta Sutton
Caughan Glaser – Philip Martin
Dorothy Peterson – Mrs. Mason


There is still a week left to join the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021. For all the details, check out the announcement post.

The Little Things Review

The Little Things movie posterSynopsis
Former Los Angeles detective and current Kern County deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) returns to LA to pick up some evidence. While there, he notices similarities between one of his unsolved cases and a current case being investigated by Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malick). Deacon teams up with Baxter to solve the case.

Review
A good psychological thriller will find a hook that gets you into the story then won’t let you go and keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way through. The Little Things manages to do just that. The film finds new ways to pull you in as it goes on, adding new wrinkles to the story, providing new revelations and tension. It manages to keep a good mystery and paces itself well for the most part. As the mystery deepens and more is revealed, we the audience have just as much information and as many details as the characters on screen have, making the story more engaging as we are trying to solve the case at the same time as Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) and Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek). For the majority of the film, the lens is on the the three leading men of Washington, Malek, and Jared Leto. Together, they carry the film expertly and naturally play off each other. Leto in particular was fantastic and easily the stand out of the trio. As is typical in this type of story, the movie is a bit of a slow burn, and as such it feels like it can drag out at times. The cryptic ending doesn’t wrap things up as much as expected but at the same time, it leaves the resolution open to interpretation, which feels fitting for this film.

I thought The Little Things was GOOD πŸ™‚ It’s easy to find similarities between this film and other crime psychological thrillers, but it does everything it’s supposed to do. An engaging story and a core cast that’s at the top of their game provide thrills right up until the very end.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
John Lee Hancock – Director / Writer
Thomas Newman – Composer

Denzel Washington – Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon
Rami Malek – Jim Baxter
Jared Leto – Albert Sparma
Chris Bauer – Detective Sal Rizoli
Michael Hyatt – Flo Dunigan
Terry Kinney – LASD Captain Carl Farris
Natalie Morales – Detective Jamie Estrada
Isabel Arraiza – Ana Baxter
Joris Jarsky – Detective Sergeant Rogers
Glenn Morshower – Captain Henry Davis
Sofia Vassilieva – Tina Salvatore


There is still plenty of time to join the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021. For all the details, check out the announcement post.

Greenland Review

Greenland movie posterSynopsis
When comet fragments begin crashing down to Earth, John Garrity (Gerard Butler) sets off on a journey with his family from their home in Georgia to bunkers in Greenland before the biggest of the fragments strikes the planet.

Review
For as much of a catastrophe that 2020 was, it’s quite appropriate that one of the final films released this year is a disaster movie. You would be forgiven if you go into Greenland expecting a cheesy adventure often seen within the genre. And while this film does contain some of the tropes expected from this sort of film, it does manage to find an authenticity not often found in disaster movies. This all stems from Gerard Butler and his every-man portrayal of John Garrity, who is merely a structural engineer trying to protect his family. He is not indestructible, nor does he become this insanely good fighter like is often seen. Rather, he simply uses his wits to protect his family. Greenland is surprisingly down to Earth, focusing on the family dynamic between John, his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). While similar films have attempted this approach, Greenland manages to do it more successfully. Of course, it helps that Butler, Baccarin and Floyd all have great chemistry together. As the trio journey to from the southern United States to Greenland, they meet many different characters along the way. The movie uses this structure to display the different ways people would react and behave during such a calamity. It’s a powerful and effective way to examine human nature.

I thought Greenland was GOOD πŸ™‚ Choosing to focus on humanity and family rather than the impending disaster, it manages to strike a surprising emotional cord for this type of film. This smaller focus does prevent some of the genre’s more obnoxious flaws from surfacing, however it doesn’t avoid them completely. Nonetheless, Greenland is one of the better disaster films out there and feels like a fitting end to the disaster that is 2020.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ric Roman Waugh – Director
Chris Sparling – Writer
David Buckley – Composer

Gerard Butler – John Garrity
Morena Baccarin – Allison Garrity
Roger Dale Floyd – Nathan Garrity
Scott Glenn – Dale