Cruella

The first thing to be aware of is that this is not a remake of any version of 101 Dalmatians. That was done in the 1996 live-action version with Glenn Close in the title role. A screenplay by John Hughes merits a second look at that incarnation of the 1961 children’s book of the same name. An attempt at a very unnecessary sequel resulted in 102 Dalmatians, also starring Close, a domestic box office money-loser and the reason there was no 103 Dalmatians. Close is behind the scenes in this latest Disney feature as an executive producer.

This is a prequel, the Cruella Deville origin story. We get to meet her as Estella, a troublesome young girl genius with very strange hair and an innate gift for design. We find out where the name of her evil alter ego originates and are introduced to several dalmatians that either have a very long lifespan or are easily replaceable. They return later in the film.

 

Two Emmas later (Stone and Thompson) we enter the world of high-fashion design dominated by The Baroness, a truly heartless character reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.Once we flash forward to the adult Estella, the movie begins to feel a lot like the Prada story line, and according to my movie-watching wife Jeanne, there are tons of really cool dresses to be seen.

 

I was more focused on the “Baduns” from 1961, still named Horace and Jasper, and here reluctantly evolving from Estella’s crooked cohorts to Cruella’s henchmen. They are bumbling thieves, but far more likeable than their cartoon version. Their little dog Wink almost steals the show. He is a Chihuahua with an eye patch and a big attitude. Buddy, Estella’s dog is cute too, aging from an adorable pup to a scruffy sidekick, always in key shots paying attention to humans and scampering through crowds at parties.


Another character that caught my attention was the Panther De Ville, a classic luxury vehicle that was used as Cruella’s car in all three live action films. It is reminiscent of the Excalibur, produced in the 1970s, and it made me flinch to see it used in high-speed chases through the streets of London. I assume the resulting damage was CGI.

 

There are secrets revealed throughout the somewhat lengthy two plus hours film. The childhood segment went on a bit long, as did Estella’s transformation during the emergence of her wicked inner persona. A hint of kindness surfaces occasionally, which puts The Baroness in the true role as this movie’s ultimate villainess. Does Cruella have a heart after all? 

 

Both Stone and Thompson do a fine job. This was a fun movie, and there’s nothing to prevent taking the kiddies, though you might find yourself explaining that when good doesn’t triumph over evil, sometimes less evil triumphs over more evil. It’s a Disney movie, after all.

 

The setup for a sequel is firmly cemented during the final scene. Stay through the credits!

 

Cruella runs 2 hour, 14 minutes and is rated PG-13

 

 

A Quiet Place II

We were welcomed into the theater with promotional videos featuring Salma Hayek and John Krasinski, thanking theater goers for returning to the big screen to see their respective films. That felt both very welcoming and somewhat sad, as if we’re all castaways being slowly reintroduced to society. Adding to the out-of-a-coma feeling were trailers that advertised, “Coming in October of 2020,” or other long overdue dates. These reminders of our emergence were poignant and somehow personal. This is the second re-opening of Regal Theaters, and we can only hope that it’s for real this time.

But we are returning on Day 474, and in that respect, the one year break we endured waiting for the sequel to A Quiet Place felt oddly appropriate. We share so much with the Abbott family, having been isolated and pursued by a mostly invisible and menacing horror. Things have improved for us, but not for them, not at all. 

 

Krasinski reprises his role as Lee Abbott, but only for the duration of a flashback to “Day One.” Emily Blunt and the kids are all back, enjoying a tranquil summer afternoon when all Hell breaks loose. We get to see how the alien invasion begins, and how suddenly things turn south. Just as suddenly we join the family in their current attempt to survive, tip-toeing through fallen leaves that crunch dangerously and into the arms of “people not worth saving.” This is a modern-day War of the Worlds.

 

I’m not going to spoil anything by saying that the alien and human monsters in the film all have four limbs and a penchant for destroying human life that defies understanding. Of course, the small family does the expected worst thing possible, they split up, allowing scene-shifting directorial fun for Krasinski and his editors, and audio engineering pluses that alternate between the silence of Regan Abbott, the deaf daughter, to the super-sensitive hearing of the sound-seeking monsters. We get a good look at the monsters in this outing.

 

Each character in the film struggles with an inner psychological conflict if not an outward, physical one, the overcoming of which carries individual plot lines through the film. Sets are post-apocalyptic, the remnants of humanity reverting to barbaric genetic memory or leading tranquil lives in hippie-like communes. Somehow, the lights have remained on for over a year, despite T-Rex/Raptor/Alien creatures running amok with the strength to shred train cars and buildings.

 

I counted at least three scenes that caused me to jump in my seat. The silence contributes heavily to the setup for these Hitchcock-like moments. This is a great sequel, worth seeing, but if you haven’t seen the original, by all means get it done before seeing number two.

 

 

A Quiet Place II (2020) runs 1 hour, 37 minutes and is rated PG-13

Wrath of Man

For my first time venturing into a post-pandemic theater I chose a film that wouldn’t require my full attention. That attention was compromised by the angst of sitting with a group of unmasked strangers, in some cases one behind the other, perhaps two feet apart. This was despite Regal Theaters’ best efforts to assign seating when purchasing tickets online. People just can’t do this simplest of things, like sitting in the seat they selected. Ah, well, at least the theaters may survive. We’re all itching to do something normal like go to the movies.

If you’re a fan of Jason Statham, this will satiate your blood lust and desire for revenge porn. The photo I chose for this review is of his biggest smile during the two-hour feature produced by Guy Ritchie. More on Ritchie in my reviews of The Gentlemen and Aladdin. He has proven himself to be a successful screenwriter and producer for an untrained high school dropout. He has a penchant for violence and appears to favor tight closeups, as if considering eventual viewing on a TV screen. He has a long history with Jason Statham, having launched his acting career in his late 90s release of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

 

Statham’s version of the unstoppable, almost super-heroic action star has him sauntering through scene after scene killing bad guys with ease and precision. He is clearly unhappy, and in Wrath of Man, that’s the motivating force behind his plot for revenge. He is a virtual Houdini, a zip-tied can of whoop-ass that keeps you on the edge of your seat because you’ve already seen him take out crews of inept armored car bandits and survive multiple gunshot wounds. He seemingly dusts off bullets like dandruff.

 

The script for Wrath of Man is initially quite weak, at least in the opening sequences when Statham, nicknamed “H,” applies and tests for a job as a driver at “The Depot,” the hub where Fortico Security’s armored cars return at the end of their pickups. It looks like home base from the TV show Taxi, and is populated by fellow drivers who all behave more like they’re in a prison yard than at work. New guys get viciously razzed, but H quickly applies his unsmiling, cold steel persona and has the boys wondering if he’s a dark horse. It’s a bit suspicious that he passes his entrance evaluation with exactly the seventy per cent required. He’s that in control, holding back and saving the good stuff for his first job. And that first job instantly lofts him to hero status at work.

 

Fellow drivers are also assigned goofy nicknames. “Bullet,” “Boy Sweat” and “Hollow Bob” are examples. The dialogue is juvenile and the banter is so over the top as to be ridiculous. But it does offer a couple of opportunities for mild laughs. There should have been more of those.

 

A missed opportunity is the presence of Dana, the lone badass girl driver played by Naimh Algar. She plays a relatively inconsequential role as H’s only love interest, a one-night stand solely for the purpose of interrogating her in the middle of the night at gunpoint. The role offered the possibility of a female costar with secret skills like those of Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. But I guess there’s no sharing the lead with Statham. But wait, who’s that handsome young bad guy, the baddest bad guy, following a convoluted layered onion of bad guys throughout the movie? Why, it’s Clint Eastwood’s son Scott, who made his screen debut in Daddy’s Flags of our Fathers in 2006. He’s not Clint, but he has a future on the big screen.

 

Wrath of Man is worth seeing if you like the Ritchie/Statham formula for violence and male dominated plots. It seemed a bit long at two hours, but that was in part due to the droning, ominous musical score that never abates and becomes sort of corny and distracting. All things considered, two better “Wraths” come to mind, like The Wrath of Khan or The Grapes of Wrath. Smile, Jason, smile. It will make you seem even more sinister. You’re fast, you’re furious. We get it.

 

 

Wrath of Man runs 1 hour, 59 minutes and is rated R.

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