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

Rear Window Review

Rear Window movie posterSynopsis
Wheelchair-bound photographer LB β€œJeff” Jefferies (James Stewart) watches his neighbors through the rear window of his apartment. One night, he believes he witnesses one of his neighbors commit a murder.

Review
As soon as the opening credits started with an upbeat and jazzy score, I knew Rear Window was going to have a different vibe than the other Hitchcock films I have watched up until this point. This film has a brighter feel than films like Shadow of a Doubt or Rope. While a suspicion of murder is at the core of the story, the movie tells the story in a much more pleasant way, if that makes sense. Because of this overall difference in tone, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat with suspense like some of Hitchcock’s other films. However, I still felt drawn in to the mystery and suspense of trying solve it along with Jefferies (James Stewart).

Hitchcock’s films have contained great casts and this one is no exception. Stewart brought the multiple facets of his character to life, from Jefferies’ strong belief in what he thought he witnessed, to his internal conflict about settling down and getting married. Grace Kelly is one of Hollywood’s most stunning actresses and she shows she has the talent to go with her looks, too! My unexpected favorite was Thelma Ritter as Jefferies’ nurse Stella. Ritter’s comedic timing and sass had me laughing every time she was on the screen.

As great as the cast was, what really sets this film apart is what Alfred Hitchcock was able to do with everything around the actors and actresses. First, there is the magnificent set design. All the buildings surrounding the central courtyard were each as unique as the residents within them, adding to their stories. Second, Hitchcock was able to tell multiple different stories of the residents in those other apartments without them even saying a word. Rear Window never leaves Jefferies’ apartment, so everything we know and see is through Jefferies’ point-of-view. Yet the audience is able to learn so much about Jefferies’ neighbors just by what Hichcock decides to show us.

Which leads me to my last point: this movie is a masterclass in visual storytelling and audience manipulation. From the get-go, we have an understanding of what happened to Jefferies that caused him to be in a wheelchair. And not a single word is spoken about it. Then, as stated above, Hitchcock only revealed what he wanted us (and Jefferies) to see about Jefferies’ neighbors, especially around Mr. Thorwold (Raymand Burr). This manipulation lets us learn about the characters by observation only but this also allows Hitchcock to throw in some twists about them towards the end of the film, revealing that there is more to those around us than meets the eye. Hitchcock also does a fantastic job of both reinforcing and contradicting Jefferies’ belief in Mr. Thorwold involvement in his wife’s disappearance. A true spectacle about what can be accomplished with a well-written script.

I thought Rear Window was GREAT πŸ˜€ At first I wasn’t sure where it landed on my ranking of Hitchcock’s films but after some thought and consideration, it lands pretty high for me. While not as dark of a suspense film as the previous films, the film’s mystery kept me engaged from start to finish. Hichcock has proven himself a master of suspense but with Rear Window, he also demonstrated himself to be a master of manipulation.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
John Michael Hayes – Screenplay

James Stewart – LB β€œJeff” Jefferies
Grace Kelly – Lisa Carol Fremont
Wendell Corey – Det. Lt. Thomas J Doyle
Thelma Ritter – Stella
Raymond Burr – Lars Thorwald
Irene Winston – Mrs. Emma Thorwald
Judith Evelyn – Miss Lonelyhearts
Ross Bagdasarian – Songwriter
Georgine Darcy – Miss Torso
Sara Berner – Woman on Fire Escape
Frank Cady – Man on Fire Escape
Rand Harper – Newlywed
Havis Davenport – Newlywed

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

Rope Review

Rope movie poster

Synopsis
Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) host a dinner party after murdering a classmate.

Review
As I make my way through my Alfred Hitchock collection, I’m starting to get a feel for his directorial style and why he came to be known as the β€œMaster of Suspense.” Rope is the next stop on my journey and while it doesn’t overtake the previous film, Shadow of a Doubt, as my favorite, it does have merit to come close.

Hitchcock shows the audience immediately the murder committed by Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) as well as the pair hiding the body in a chest in their apartment. Because this act is literally the first scene of the film, there is no doubt about the character of Brandon and Phillip and what they are capable of. We also get a sense of their personalities and relationship from this early scene. So as the film goes on, the suspense continuously builds as their guests seemingly come closer and closer to discovering the hidden body. The tension kicks into high gear once Rupert (James Steward) becomes suspicious of the two boys. Once again, this film is suspenseful but in a different way than Hitchcock’s previous films I have seen so far, truly demonstrating his mastery over the genre.

What really adds to the suspense is the acting from Dall, Granger, and Stewart. All three of these actors did superbly in their parts. You get the sense that the dynamic between the two murderers is more than simple friendship and Dall and Granger sold that relationship. Dall brings a sense of superiority over everyone around him to his character. This brings him to verbally spar with his mentor, Stewart’s character. Stewart brings a calm demeanor that dovetails well with the snideness of Dall and the nervousness of Granger. When these three were together, particularly towards the end of the film, is when Rope excelled.

One of my favorite things Hitchcock did in this film was make it appear to be one continuous shot. Rope was adapted from the play by the same name and it feels like watching a play when watching this movie. The one-continuous-shot style has rarely been used over the decades but Rope was the first to make use of the technique, making Hitchcock a pioneer yet again. He was limited to 10 minute shots due to limitations of 35mm film at the time and it is easy to see where several of the transitions occurred but it doesn’t take away from the experience too much.

I don’t know how much of the dialogue was adopted from the original play but I found the dialogue of Rope to be very witty. Multiple innuendos were sprinkled throughout the film. It’s a small touch but it added a little bit of humor to an otherwise dark and serious film.

I thought Rope was GREAT πŸ˜€ As I watch more and more of Hitchcock’s films, I am learning that β€œsuspense” can be implemented in multiple ways. The suspense of Rope is different than the suspense in the previous Hitchcock films I have watched, which also have different types of suspense from each other. The trio of John Dall, Farley Granger, and James Stewart were fantastic, bringing the snappy dialogue to life. The quality from Hitchcock has been astounding and I cannot wait to see what happens next in my on my journey through my Hitchcock collection.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Director – Alfred Hitchcock
Hume Cronyn – Writer
Arthur Laurents – Screenplay
David Buttolph – Composer

John Dall – Brandon
Farley Granger – Phillip
Edith Evanson – Mrs. Wilson
Douglas Dick – Kenneth
Joan Chandler – Janet
Cedric Hardwicke – Mr. Kentley
Constance Collier – Mrs. Atwater
James Stewart – Rupert Cadell
Dick Hogan – David Kentley

Shadow of a Doubt Review

Shadow of a Doubt movie posterSynopsis
Charlie (Teresa Wright) gets suspicious that her uncle (Joseph Cotton) might be a murderer.

Review
This review contains slight spoilers.

Next up in my journey through my Alfred Hitchcock collection is Shadow of a Doubt. Hitchcock has said that this is his favorite film, so that is some high praise coming from the director himself! Of course, I didn’t know that when I started the film. I have been going into these films with as little knowledge beforehand as possible. Good thing to because Shadow of a Doubt is way more suspenseful if you don’t know what is going to happen in the film.

I know I’m only two films into my journey but an early trend I am seeing is Hitchcock had a knack for casting a fantastic leading pair. In Saboteur it was Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. Now in Shadow of a Doubt it’s Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton. Cotton in particular was phenomenal. As the film progresses, we slowly see the dark side of his character, Charlie Oakley. Cotton’s descent into this darker persona is chilling and wonderfully executed. Teresa Wright, whose character is named after her Uncle Charlie, begins the film full of excitement and youthful energy when her uncle first arrives to visit. In the same way Cotton slowly descends into a darker character, Wright has a similar transformation, from naive child to realizing a hard truth about her uncle. And not only are these two great individually but they are also marvelous together.

Besides Cotton and Wright, there was an unexpectedly fun pairing of young Charlie’s father, Joseph, played by Henry Travers, and Joe’s best friend Herbie, played by Hume Cronyn. The friendly banter the two of them had throughout the film was funny and entertaining. It brought a sense of levity to an otherwise generally serious tone of the film.

In the beginning, you have no idea of who Uncle Charlie really is. The film does an excellent job of slowly unraveling the character while at the same time keeping an air of mystery around him. I f there is one flaw I would say Shadow of a Doubt has is that it made the revelation too early. If Hitchcock would have maintained the suspense of if Charlie was or wasn’t the murderer until the very end, I think that would have made the movie even more suspenseful. I know that sounds like blasphemy, criticizing the master of suspense but I said it and I’m sticking to it.

One of the things I liked about Saboteur, the previous film in my Hitchcock journey, was how large the adventure felt. Barry Kane started in California and worked his way across the United States, ending in New York City. Shadow of a Doubt is much smaller in scope, taking place solely in Californian small town. Despite this, Shadow of a Doubt is the more exciting film of the two. There’s something about the small town atmosphere that adds to the tension when a menacing figure shows up and begins causing havoc.

Something I didn’t expect from this film was the amount of humor it had! I regularly found myself chuckling, especially when it came to the scenes with Joe and Herbie as mentioned before. I wasn’t expecting such moments of levity from a Hitchcock film. I guess I’m learning more and more that I shouldn’t have any expectations of what to expect from a filmmaker of Hitchcock’s caliber.

I thought Shadow of a Doubt was GREAT πŸ˜€ This is what I expected out of a Hitchcock film and more. I hadn’t expected to find a favorite this early into my journey but this movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Joseph Cotton was the absolutely stand out member of the cast, balancing the menace and friendliness of the character. Even if the reveal is too soon, the suspense flows throughout the film. Coming across a film of this quality so early in my Hitchcock journey has me excited to see where it goes from here.

Trivia
Alfred Hitchcock has stated that this is his favorite film. Part of why he considered this to be his favorite film he made was because he liked the idea of bringing menace to a small town.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
Thornton Wilder – Screenplay
Sally Benson – Screenplay
Alma Reville – Screenplay
Gordon McDonell – Story
Dimitri Tiomkin – Composer

Teresa Wright – Charlie Newton
Joseph Cotton – Charlie Oakley
Henry Travers – Joseph Newton
Patricia Collinge – Emma Newton
Edna May Wonacott – Ann Newton
Charles Bates – Roger Newton
Hume Cronyn – Herbie Hawkins
Macdonald Carey – Jack Graham
Wallace Ford – Fred Saunders

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)