REVIEW: “CRUELLA” (2021) Disney Studios/Disney+

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Estella or Cruella… This new offering of the old traditional story from Disney, definitely delves into a completely different outlook on this once cute story of a villainess and her adorable Dalmatian puppies. This prequel from director Craig Gillespie, is quite possibly the “CRUELLA” we didn’t know we needed, until we actually did.

To begin with, this version is a bit darker than any previous interpretation, animated or live action, and it is fun to watch Emma Stone take a deep dive into this character and come out sparkling. The story told here starts with young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), on their way to start a new life in London in the 1960s. She aspires to be a fashion designer as like her mother, she is quite talented with a needle and thread. Young Estella struggles with her identity with her strictly parted down the middle, half black/half white hair, as Catherine tries to teach her how to lay low, and to fend off teasing and bullies, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have the best self control over. Tragedy ensues and with that past defining her, we get to see how she eventually becomes Cruella De Vil.

After said traumatic events, we find Estrella alone on the streets of London, where she is befriended by a pair of young street thieves, Jasper and Horace, and ends up with them. She ensues in working a life of crime and grift with the two, who come to appreciate her street wise sensibilities and they become a family of sorts. Flash forward to the 1970s and Estella (Emma Stone), is plodding away in a store as a cleaner versus her dream job in the world of fashion. When fate accompli happens and places Estella in the path of self-centered fashion magnate, The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), takes her under her wing and uses her talent for her own benefit. The Baroness treats those around her terribly and with this vile treatment, intimidates Estella. But her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser); see this as an opportunity to rob from the Baroness (per Horace: there is ALWAYS an angle) and as Estrella’s designs start to gain attention, this places them at odds with one another – that is – until Cruella shows up. Cruella soon takes the fashion world by storm with her penchant for the theatrical. Her bold designs and innovative looks, give her the power to upstage the Baroness at every turn, placing her front and center for the camera at major events, but also putting her in the crosshairs of The Baroness’ narcissistic tendencies of revenge.

Emma Thompson delivers one her best performances in recent years. She takes the extremely over-the-top character of the cartoonish Baroness and makes her strangely realistic and relatable. Almost sort of like an exaggeration of a stereotype, but still resembling actual people from the real world (I might actually know a few of these). The other Emma – Stone – gives Estella heart, to where you care about her and want the best for her, even if the Cruella side of her character doesn’t always make the best choices, Stone lets you enjoy both. Fry as Jasper and Walter-Hauser as Horace, have some of the best comedic moments in Cruella, and are truly hilarious together as the famous street wise duo of thieves who like nothing more to “Pick a pocket or two.” John McCrea as Artie is a hoot as the second-hand storekeeper and could’ve been more of a voice within the film, as his fun-loving character seems a bit underutilized. I wish that there was more to his and the other supporting cast’s roles, as it feels like Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is an afterthought given the ‘darling’ nature of her childhood friendship with Estella, and then having a hand in making Cruella famous. John (Mark Strong), Roger (Kayvan Novak), and Gerald (Jamie Demetriou) play characters of henchmen/housemen variety as well, and all kind of shuffle on screen just to be shuffled right back off. One could question why some of their characters were even put forth, but in the long run, it does serve the story.

The biggest stand out that doesn’t involve the acting ensemble is of course, the stunning costume design giving us true works of art featuring cool retro, edgy storytelling from costume designer Jenny Beavan, as well as the gorgeous makeup and hair lead by Nancy Stacey. Not to be outdone, is the wonderful production design from Fiona Crombie, and perhaps my favourite of all, the soundtrack from music supervisor Susan Jacobs. There doesn’t seem to be many talking about it, but this soundtrack is packed with wonderful song choices from Blondie, The Rolling Stones, Queen and The Clash – to name a few. For me, it was a lovely highlight I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t stop myself from singing along and yes, grooving out!

Perhaps one of the few downfalls is the length of the film. At two hours and fourteen minutes – it did run a bit long, but don’t get up out of your seat just yet, as make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, as it hints at what’s to come.

B

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Review Screening: Courtesy of Disney Studios and Disney+

CRUELLA” AIRS ON DISNEY+ AND OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

REVIEW: “YESTERDAY” (2019) Universal

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A world without music from The Beatles? It’s hard to “Imagine” right.  But of course it’s not as simple as never having their classics played on the radio or not being able to find an album or song lyrics, basically any idea of them ever existing. Of course, that’s a bit too much to tackle in a movie, so director Danny Boyle  simplifies things by serving up a 12 second global power outage in which starts the beginning of ‘Yesterday’.

The film tells the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), an amateur musician who is trying to break into the industry with the help of his best friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James), but during that random power outage,  he gets hit by a truck riding his bike home and wakes up in an alternate universe where several things have turned out to have never existed, but most importantly the Beatles and their songs. Jack decides to take advantage of this, and uses the Beatles’ music to launch his career, becoming the most famous pop star in the world.

That premise sounds great, and I was looking forward to a surreal comedy, but to be honest, it doesn’t quite live up to it, instead getting distracted by what the actual main plot turned out to be: a cliche romantic comedy with the childhood friend that is secretly in love with the protagonist, only for him to figure it out for himself later. aka..a generic romcom.

The best moments of this film are to do with the central premise of the alternate universe, where Jack would reference something, only for the people around him to say “what’s that?” I mean, it’s the same joke in different words basically every time, but hey, the way they execute it is pretty good. There are also some decent satirical moments with Jack interacting with the music industry, personified by Jack’s manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), and an extended cameo by Ed Sheeran, who falls victim to some self-deprecating jokes, and Rocky (Joel Fry) his ‘roadie’ who honestly was one of the funniest characters in the film.

Speaking of the Beatles, you’d be surprised by how little they actually contribute to the plot. For a film that is named after one of their more famous songs, you’d think that their music and impact to society would be more than just a plot device for the main character to achieve his success. There’s no real commentary as to why the Beatles music is so great, you’re just told, over and over again, that they’re the greatest band ever, and that a world without them ever existing would suck. Sure, that is something I would agree with, but the film doesn’t really add much of their own perspective to that side of the story, it just takes that idea as fact.

The romance is decent, but cliche and overall unremarkable. Screenwriter Richard Curtist definitely knows how to write romances, having written several well regarded romcoms, like “Love Actually” and “About Time“, but I would say that ‘Yesterday’ isn’t quite up to that standard. Same goes for Danny Boyle and the other films he directed compared to this. The direction isn’t bad, but it’s bland and doesn’t really add much to the story.

I guess if you like romcoms and Beatles music, this movie will definitely be watchable, and truthfully, it is entertaining enough..but just barely enough and it slides through it’s two hour run time, and overall I’m disappointed that they didn’t take full advantage of the great premise and really run with it.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Monday, June 24, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Studios

‘YESTERDAY’ IS NOW PLAYING IS THEATERS WORLDWIDE