REVIEW: CRUELLA (2021)

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CRUELLA (2021)

Disappointing origin story for one of Disney’s most famous villains, Cruella de Vil. The story finds little Estella Miller (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) wanting to be a fashion designer, but being nicknamed “Cruella” by her single mother (Emily Beecham), because of her mean streak. When her mother is accidentally killed, Estella becomes an orphan who befriends two street urchins Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald) to survive. As adults, Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) make a living as thieves and pick-pockets. Estella gets a chance to live her design dream when she gets a job at the Liberty department store and catches the eye of fashion mogul The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Trouble arises, though, as Estella finds there is a link between her mother’s death and the woman she now works for. She adopts the alter-ego of fashion rebel Cruella and sets out to embarrass and ruin The Baroness for revenge. The fur soon flies as the two fashionistas go to war.

Uninspired prequel is directed by-the-numbers by Craig Gillespie from a script and story by five people…and it shows. The film resembles a soup where too many cooks are throwing in ingredients and yet the meal never really comes together despite everything in it. In terms of tone, it’s less a family movie than a possible result if Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) had directed a Disney movie in his heyday in the 80s. Only we think he would have done better. Billed as a comedy, it’s rarely funny and it’s quite slow moving, making it’s 134 minute runtime seem even longer. There are a few lively sequences, such as Cruella continuing to show up at The Baroness’ events and one upping the haughty designer, but otherwise it’s actually dull in many spots and the wit is a little too dry for it’s own good. Laughs are few and far between and it’s hard to picture any of the younger Disney crowd having the patience to sit through it. The production is lavish and the look and feel of the 60s and 70s London setting is well done, but the story is basically a slightly more outlandish twist on The Devil Wears Prada and, well, that tale has already been told. Overall, it’s a big disappointment considering the concept and some of the splendid acting talent involved.

The cast are good, despite being given mediocre material to work with. Emma Stone gives it her over-the-top all as Estella/Cruella, making her more of an anti-heroine than an outright villain. She’s fun to watch as she chews up the scenery in some outlandish outfits and one wishes she was in a far better film to really cut loose. Same can be said of veteran actress Emma Thompson who also does wonders with a thinly written and stereotypical part as The Baroness. It’s entertaining to see the Emmas act off of each other and again, one wishes a better script was there in support of these two performers. Fry and Hauser are fine as Cruella’s sidekicks and Mark Strong is solid, as always, as The Baroness’ right hand man, John. Also making an impression is John McCrea as Cruella’s flamboyant friend and accomplice, Artie. A very good cast let down by flaccid direction and a weak script.

Overall this is a sad and mostly dull misfire that was born from a very intriguing premise. Casting Emma Stone as a young Cruella de Vil was a great idea, that is sadly under-baked in it’s execution. It’s a familiar story about the underbelly of the design world that has been done before and surely there was a better way to launch one of Disney animation’s greatest bad girls. It’s not very funny, nor does it have the energy, pacing or cleverness it needed to make it really soar. Both Emmas give it their all, but can only do so much with flat direction and an even flatter script. What they do accomplish is a testament to their talent. Most of the below rating is for the actresses, supporting cast and production design crew who really try hard in this tepid let-down.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4)  Dalmatians!

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REVIEW: SHAZAM! (2019)

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SHAZAM! (2019)

Latest flick from the DC Comics cinematic universe is based on one of their outside the Justice League characters and is more geared towards kids, though it has a few rough moments. Movie finds orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel) running away from foster home after foster home to try and find his real mother. His latest place of residence is a foster home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews). Here he’s befriended by Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is partially disabled and a real superhero fan. His superhero know-how comes in handy when guardian wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) chooses Billy as a champion to take his place as a protector and to hold his power. Now all Billy has to do is say “Shazam!” and he transforms into a muscular adult superhero (Zachary Levi)…but in body only. Learning how to be a hero is tough enough on it’s own for a kid, but Billy/Shazam is challenged by the bitter and angry Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who was rejected by Shazam as a child and now wants revenge…and has seven powerful demons to help him get it.

Flick is directed by David F. Sandberg, who cut his teeth on horror flicks like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. This probably comes in handy as the script by Henry Gayden, from a story by he and Darren Lemke, features the before mentioned demons and thus a few spooky sequences. Sandberg does a good job at the sentimental and silly stuff, too, though in both cases, the script throws in a bit too much of it. The schtick of a 15 year-old kid being in an adult superhero’s body wears out it’s welcome after a while with numerous scenes of Billy/Shazam acting like a brat and using his newfound fame to get himself attention and money. Probably what a kid would do, true, but here it’s drawn out a bit too long. The whole film could have been a bit tighter and wouldn’t have missed about ten minutes or so removed. There are some fun bits and the flick has heart, but it can be over-sentimental at times, too and really goes for all the clichés about trust and family, though superhero flicks in particular can get away with being cliché. It’s oddly one of the things endearing about them. The climactic confrontation with Sivana never really gets all that exciting and Billy learning that he doesn’t have to fight alone is exactly what we expect to happen. The flick overall is very predictable. Not a bad movie, but one that could have used a little tightening, a little more excitement and less repetition with it’s hi-jinx.

There are no complaints about the cast. Zachary Levi is a hoot as the teen in an adult body imbued with superpowers. He’s charming and funny and even if the bratty hero bits are the focus for a bit too long, Levi is fun in the part. His overstuffed costume is a bit off-putting, but otherwise Levi is a good fit for the role. Asher Angel was very good as Billy. The film’s sentiment may get schmaltzy at times, but Angel is endearing and likable and handles the emotional requirements very well. Grazer is also likable as the partially disabled nerd who has a strong interest in superheroes and now gets to be BFF’s with one. Mark Strong makes a solid though unremarkable villain. He’s a very reliable veteran actor and it was cool to see DC give him a second chance at villainy after the prospects of his being the evil Sinestro in a Green Lantern sequel dried up. The rest of the supporting cast are also good and all perform well in their roles.

Overall, this is a flick that tries hard and doesn’t miss the mark by too much. It has some fun sequences and a likable cast, but maybe plays out it’s schtick a bit too long and might be a bit too silly at times for some tastes. The film feels like it could have been a bit shorter and tighter, without harming it’s story and drags a bit midway through. It’s loaded with clichés which make it a bit predictable, but still has a lot of fun bits and with lead Levi being perfectly cast as the kid in a hero’s body. As a superhero version of 1988’s Big, at least they had the respect to pay that film a nice homage. Stay after the credits for two additional sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) kids in a hero’s body.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, ALIEN OUTPOST and INFINI

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KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)

Mildly amusing spy spoof is based on a comic book by Mark Millar and directed by Matthew Vaughn, as was the cult favorite Kick-Ass. The film follows a group of British Secret Service operatives known as the Kingman and one agent, Galahad’s (Colin Firth) efforts to thwart the evil plot of megalomaniac villain Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), with the help of new recruit, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). There are some fun over-the-top action sequences and playful nods and jabs at spy films and Britain’s most famous agent in particular, but the film never really takes off as a comedy and never really grabs with it’s hyper violent, CGI enhanced action scenes. Sometimes the film just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be…spoof, or actual spy film. The graphic violence also clashes with it’s more playful tone, giving the film a schizophrenic quality. The cast are charming enough, though Jackson’s Valentine does get annoying after a while, as played as an overzealous man-child. The FX are top notch and the plot would fit any of the lower tier Bond films. It’s just that the humor isn’t quite funny enough, in paying homage it doesn’t give us anything new and, overall, it winds up being exactly the type of mid-level spy movie it’s supposed to be playfully poking fun at. A harmless enough watch, but almost as forgettable as some of the lesser efforts it spoofs…save a certain show-stopping church set action sequence played-out to “Freebird”. Also stars Mark Strong and Michael Caine.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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ALIEN OUTPOST (2014)

Faux documentary from Jabbar Raisani is never for one moment successful at feeling like anything, but a staged, scripted film. The story takes place in the near future where an alien invasion of Earth has been repelled and now outposts have been set up around the world to clean up the left behind alien soldiers, known as “Heavies”. The film focuses…through the eyes of two cameramen…on the troops in one of the last outposts on the Pakistan/Afganistan border, who are under fire by aliens and locals alike. The flick grows tiresome quickly, as it is filled with and overplays every war movie cliché it can muster. The characters are all blandly acted stereotypes, who give the same gung-ho speeches and mournful soliliquies we have heard in every war movie since the 40s. Adding aliens to the mix adds nothing new. There are also numerous and huge plot holes such as, if the alien’s have mind-control abilities, why didn’t they use them in the initial conflict and why would the world’s governments make such a half-assed effort to clean out the remaining aliens, who are clearly still a threat…other than to add drama to this movie. There are some nice FX and the aliens are portrayed effectively, but aliens aside, this is nothing we haven’t seen before and much better.

2 star rating

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INFINI (2015)

Australian Sci-Fi thriller may have some very familiar elements, but is an entertaining enough flick. Story has an incident occurring on a far-off mining colony and a search and rescue group going there to collect a sole survivor (Daniel MacPherson) and stop the plant from further processing. What they find is an alien life form capable of taking over other lifeforms in order to evolve…and with gruesome and violent results. Sure Shane Abbess’ chiller plays a lot like a combination of both John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ghosts Of Mars but, it’s fairly entertaining despite the similarities and does take it’s familiar story in an interesting direction by the time the credits roll. The film is rather moderately paced and has a few tedious spots, but the FX are top notch and the acting is pretty good for this type of flick. Avoids some of the cliché and does give us something to think about once it concludes. Also stars Luke Hemsworth and Grace Huang.

3 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: JOHN CARTER (2012)

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JOHN CARTER (2012)

As a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian Chronicles, I have been waiting for someone to adapt these nearly 100 year-old pulp sci-fi adventures to film since I was a boy. Now after years in development hell, Disney finally brings the adventures of Earth-man John Carter and his adventures on Mars to life. And it’s not quite the classic epic I was hoping for, but definitely not the bomb it’s sadly labeled.

The simply named John Carter takes a lot of liberties with Burroughs’ stories, too many to list here and in result comes up with a tale that is a bit talky and more plot heavy than needed. Burroughs’ books were short, action packed and to the point. So should have John Carter been. The book based story tells of Confederate Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who is whisked unintentionally by a series of events to the planet Mars, where he finds an ally in four-armed, green warrior Tars Tarkus (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and love with beautiful princess Dejah Thoris , who has now graduated from the damsel in distress in the books to also being a scientist and woman warrior here, played by Lynn Collins.

Adaptation is directed by Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) and is not bad. Stanton may have written a lot of dialog scenes, but when there is action, it is fast moving, epic in scale and exciting and he gets good performances out of all his cast. He does set a good pace for a film with an over-complicated plot and he does capture some of the pulp charm nicely in many scenes as well. It‘s too bad he couldn’t follow Burroughs’ lead and keep John Carter a bit simpler and get to the spectacular action a bit sooner. It’s never boring, but there is a lot of traveling back and forth before the plot really gets moving and Carter, with his enhanced abilities due to Mars‘ thinner atmosphere and lesser gravity, gets to the business of saving Mars and his lady love from the devious Therns, who weren’t even in the first John Carter novel A Princess Of Mars. Plot and character development are obviously important, but I still feel the film’s 132 minutes could have been better managed.

Criticisms aside, the film is sumptuously, though somewhat derivative-ly, designed. The SPFX are flawless and spectacular and there is nice atmosphere from Michael Giacchino‘s (Star Trek 2009, Super 8) beautiful score. Stanton does give the film a lot of charm and charm is what makes those century old books it’s based on still so enjoyable. The enormous budget is on screen and despite it’s flaws, the end had me wanting to see more of Carter’s adventures on Barsoom (their name for Mars) as there are 11 books and now that the central characters have all been introduced, we can get right to the fun. And John Carter wasn’t without fun, it just needed a bit more of it and a little less of the politics and conspiracy elements which fill it.

The film also stars Mark Strong as Matai Sheng, Dominic West as Sab Than, James Purefoy as Kantos Kan and a vocal performance by Thomas Hayden Church as Tars Tarkus’ dangerous rival, Tal Hajus. Despite it’s flaws I like John Carter and it has grown on me even more with repeated viewings and it’s status as a box office bomb gives it a bad reputation that it doesn’t really deserve. It’s a good movie, but just not the great one that the source material warranted. But I still recommend you give it a chance if you haven’t seen it.

3 Woolas!

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