Cruella


Viewed – 08 June 2021 Disney+

There, I admit it … I have a bit of a crush on Emma Stone. As one of the most versatile, likeable and talented actresses around, it’s difficult not to fall for her charms. This latest vehicle, an origin story of notorious Disney villain Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatian has Stone playing Estella, an orphaned girl with dreams of making it big in the fashion industry. However what starts out as a sort of ‘Devil Wears Prada’ tale turns into something else entirely when Estella finds herself pitting her wits against famed designer The Baroness who may or may not be linked to Estella’s mother’s untimely death.

You caught me on a bad day….

La La Land’s Emma Stone is clearly having a ball here, paired wonderfully with Emma Thompson’s Baroness, both of which chew up the scenery with their vivid characterisation. This has a throwback Disney setting with the cor-blimey-gov’nor of Mary Poppins London but given a dark Tim Burton-like twist. Stone’s journey from Estella’s street kid / thief to fashion rebel Cruella is an interesting one. Yet at times some of the one-upping and rivalry between the Baroness and Cruella gets a bit silly, and Stone’s forced upper-class English accent can grate.

However, with an engaging 70s soundtrack spanning everyone from The Clash to Nina Simone, plenty of energy and character (Cruella’s two sidekicks are great fun), and a wealth of fun dog moments (of course), this was still highly entertaining. It’s a bit long at almost 2hrs and 20 minutes but rarely drags and had enough story, twists and fun sequences to keep this viewer glued. One to watch.

Verdict: Recommended

The Conjuring 3


Viewed – 26 May 2021 Cinema

The Devil Made Me Do It

The universe created for The Conjuring franchise, has in my opinion been (mostly) consistent, quality horror. This latest entry is based on the case of Arnie Johnson, who in 1981 was trialled for murder and as his defence, the lawyers said it was demonic possession.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as real-life paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren who are called in to aid the defence and prove Arnie was possessed. Along the way they stumble upon a satanic curse linked to other incidents. The central story was intriguing and held my interest and how the movie further explored the Warren’s relationship was welcome. Jump scares were plentiful and for the most part well done, and certain set pieces definitely got the hairs standing up on back of my neck (the morgue scene). Also, how Lorraine Warren’s psychic abilities are shown does get quite imaginative.

Franchise creator James Wan steps down from the directing chair, acting as a co-writer and producer and minus his skill at delivering carefully drawn out atmosphere and scares, this failed to get under one’s skin as much as the previous entries … but still retains high production values (with effective sound design) and strong performances. The weakest of the three movies then, but still well worth a watch.

Verdict: Good

Memories of Murder


Viewed – 13 May 2021 Blu-ray

I had wanted to see Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 serial killer drama for a while but it had been hard to find on Blu-Ray. However with the recent release of a box set of the director’s movies, I finally got my wish. Based on true events and set in 1986, this follows a group of detectives as they investigate a series of murdered women.

The Police heading the case however seem particularly inept, their methods questionable to say the least; including torturing suspects to get confessions or planting evidence just to close the case. Yet when a more experienced detective from out of town joins the investigation, they begin to follow previously ignored leads. Korean cinema regular Kang Ho-Song is again decent and delivers a convincing portrayal of an arrogant detective clearly overwhelmed by the situation. However for me Kim Sang-kyung as the out of town detective stole the show in a more layered role, especially with how events change him.

Parasite Director Joon-ho delivers a solid drama. It’s not as stylish as he’s known for and more a character piece than anything all that grisly, I watched this twice and certainly got more out of it the second time around. Yet it’s focus on detectives being rather unprofessional and especially how they treat one suspect who has a learning disability seemed to bog down the narrative. So not a must see, but still another decent example of Korean cinema.

Unfortunately the Blu-ray from Curzon Artificial Eye is bare bones. The image quality is only serviceable, looking a bit soft generally and lacking fine detail. Sound fairs better with a punchy DTS 5.1 soundtrack that has clear dialogue and the moments when music kicks in are impactful. There’s only the original Korean language available and no English dub. Extras are non-existent but for a trailer. Disappointing treatment for an intriguing, if light-weight serial killer movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Poor

Nomadland


Viewed – 04 May 2021 Disney+

The movie that has had the most praise at this year’s Oscars, nabbing best picture, best director and best actress for Frances McDormand. This drama based on a book follows the character of Fern (McDormand) who after the closure of a mining pit and the downfall of the town where she lived, chooses to journey into the American wilderness and become a nomad. She meets with like-minded people and becomes part of a community of travellers, whilst staying as far away from society as she can.

life on the road…

Shot in a very fly-on-the-wall, semi-documentary style this is a fascinating snapshot of a lifestyle I’d imagine many don’t know about. I certainly felt swept up in the idea of getting away from it all, and with how crazy the world can get it certainly has an appeal. Director Chloe Zhao has delivered a highly authentic movie, filled with real-life nomads that added a lot of realism, and celebrates the wonder of the American landscape beautifully with some eye-catching cinematography. McDormand is great and you do get a strong sense of a woman who has given up on society and is trying to find her place in everything. I was only disappointed that her character doesn’t exactly grow or have much of an ark, seeming to end the movie just the same as she began.

That’s kind of what let’s this down. It’s very much just ‘is’ and lacks drama or anything that enables the story to develop. As an insight into a lifestyle and of the human experience, it’s effective but as anything else it ultimately falls flat.

Verdict: Good

The Best of Enemies


Viewed – 17 April 2021 Netflix

It’s unfortunate that the awful history of racism in America can make for such riveting movies. Set in North Carolina in 1971, this explores the story of a female black activist who gets pitted against a leader of the local Klu Klux Klan. When forced to work together to pass a bill about racial integration in schools, the two rivals find themselves forming an unusual friendship.

This is the type of movie that really gets one thinking and questioning the world we live in. Immediately the setting and time period, aided by a great soundtrack pulled me in. This was also brilliantly acted, with the stand out being Taraji P Hensen (Hidden Figures), who delivers a powerhouse performance as Ann Atwater. Sam Rockwell as KKK leader C P Ellis is also excellent and delivers possibly one of his best turns in a challenging portrayal. Although the story might seem familiar and there’s certainly comparisons to be had with the acclaimed Green Book, this still really grabbed me. Direction from first-timer Robin Bissell was authentic and engrossing, and delivered a surprisingly feel good ending that really made the movie for me.

For such material it very much glosses over some of the worst the KKK were known for, although I’m guessing this was more a character piece focusing on how people can learn from one another … and in that respect it’s pretty damn great. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended