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Everything old is new again.

That’s the attitude we’ve been seeing from the folks at Disney over the past few years. Leaving aside the omnipresent churn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve also been witness to the company’s ever-increasing tendency to find ways to revisit and recycle pieces from the vast store of intellectual property they’ve amassed over the decades.

For instance, the trend of crafting live-action(ish) remakes of beloved animated classics. From “Cinderella” to “Beauty and the Beast” to “Aladdin” to “The Lion King,” the back half of the 2010s was littered with these remakes. Some were good, some were … less good. But they all made truckloads of money at the box office, and so the hits keep on coming.

An outgrowth of that trend saw movies like “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Maleficent” and its kind-of-terrible sequel. Those films weren’t remakes per se, but rather attempts at reimagining and retconning a classic Disney character. Again, not necessarily creative triumphs, but largely commercial ones.

It’s that outgrowth that has given us “Cruella,” Disney’s gritty prequel treatment of Cruella de Vil that is currently available both in theaters and at home via Disney+ Premium Access. With an absolutely stacked cast led by Emma Stone as the titular Cruella, it’s an effort to backfill the story of a character who is, quite frankly, one of the most cartoonishly evil in the Disney rogues’ gallery of cartoon evil.

And it’s … kind of good? Almost unexpectedly so?

It’s a super-stylish period piece that attempts to show us how Cruella became the unrepentant force of sinisterness that we see in “101 Dalmatians,” painting the titular character as a wounded young person who grew up seeking to find avenues to express her fashion passions and the door-kicking proto-punk rock path she took to finally get there … as well as revenge on those who wronged her along the way. It features a great aesthetic and some great performances; while the screenplay definitely has its issues, the overall effort is largely a successful one.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:16

‘Dolittle’ does even less

When a once-hyped big-budget movie sees its release time moved from prime real estate to the January tundra, it’s probably safe to assume that things haven’t worked out the way anyone anticipated. It’s not hard to tell when a studio has made the grim decision to cut its losses.

“Dolittle” was obviously intended to be a tentpole, a spring/summer release meant to kick off a franchise. And with no-longer-Tony-Stark Robert Downey Jr. on board, it probably felt like an easy win, a no-brainer.

Instead, it’s a meandering and pointless exercise in formulaic filmmaking. It is utterly lacking in any sort of spark, a flat and listless story told without any real excitement or urgency. There’s zero in the way of originality and even less in the way of engagement despite an absolutely all-star cast. Younger viewers might get some giggles, but even they will likely sense that something doesn’t sit right.

Basically, “Dolittle” is a dumb movie that doesn’t really care how dumb it is.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 18 June 2019 19:31

Don’t sleep on ‘Late Night’

As a rule, small movies struggle in the summertime. There’s only so much oxygen in the room during Hollywood’s Memorial Day-to-Labor Day promotional blitz, so it’s easy for a low-budget, non-franchise movie to get lost in the shuffle.

Most of the time, that would be the fate of a movie like “Late Night,” the Mindy Kaling-penned comedy directed by Nisha Ganatra and starring Kaling along with Emma Thompson. But this isn’t most of the time, thanks to Amazon purchasing the distribution rights at Sundance; with the power of Bezos behind it, the movie was able to elbow its way to a place at the table.

And it’s a good thing, too, because this movie is one of the funnier offerings we’ve seen thus far in 2019, a smart and sharp workplace comedy with something to say. It’s a film with bite, one willing to tell its story from a perspective we don’t often see. Toss in a killer cast and a legitimately funny script and you’ve got something special.

Published in Movies

As Hollywood studios continue to clamor for viable franchises to turn into nine-figure blockbusters, there are going to be … let’s call them miscalculations. For every successful series that breeds summer hits, a half-dozen very expensive failures will land on screens with a thud before quietly (and quickly) disappearing.

Unfortunately, the latest effort in that vein “Men in Black: International” – the fourth movie in the “MIB” series and the first without stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones – falls into the latter category; the new film has its moments but is largely lacking the spirit of its predecessors.

It’s not an outright failure (well, creatively speaking – the initial box office estimates do not speak well of its commercial viability), but director F. Gary Gray never quite figures out how best to utilize the clear and present chemistry of his two leads; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are dynamite together – the MCU has proven that a couple of times – but while their dynamics are a major highlight, the relationship isn’t enough to elevate the film beyond its myriad narrative shortcomings.

Published in Movies

Live-action remake loyal to spirit of animated classic

Published in Movies

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