Cruella

Cruella dives into the origins of the infamous 101 Dalmatians antagonist. Emma Stone is seriously great as the lead and another reason to praise the actress as well as the seemingly impeccable casting directors at Disney. Her performance is charming, unpredictable, and twisted. Though she is notoriously an insane criminal and dog-killer, she is likable in comparison to the other big Emma of the film. Emma Thompson plays a ruthless, egomaniacal fashion designer whose absolutely repulsive without a single redeeming quality. Her repugnance reminded me of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, another evil, sadistic, fashion designer. Thompson portrays this narcissism and wickedness well, and the movie does a mostly good job, aside from a few lines, keeping her out of cartoonish territory. The relationship between the Emmas onscreen is easily a gripping anchor for the film’s story. Two other standouts are Cruella’s loyal surrogate brothers and sidekicks, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. My favorite was especially Hauser, who is much more comedic (and British) than his other popular turns in films like I, Tonya, Richard Jewell and Da 5 Bloods, and nails every moment he’s on screen. As a fan of his, I was especially glad to see him be in a film with a wide audience like a Disney film.

Cruella‘s script manages to, for most of the runtime, distance itself from the famous story it’s inspired by, despite a few nods and a shoehorned post-credits scene thrown in for the Disney hardcore fans. It feels very much like a Craig Gillespie movie — like his previous film I, Tonya, it’s a fast-paced chronicle of a morally ambiguous woman’s journey into such obscurity. However, it’s the hyper-stylistic approach that’s most detrimental to the film. The soundtrack is a nonstop barrage of rock music with no room for silence or drama, with one popular rock song after the other, and the music choices being frankly on the nose and unoriginal (seriously, why do so many films use “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones?). Had the style kept some of this energy but toned it down to make scenes feel less fluffy and more dramatic for its villain, the movie would’ve resonated more. With such gorgeous production design and costumes that made me awe (and trust me, I don’t always notice beauty in costume design like I did in this film), as well as solid acting and writing, why didn’t Disney trust its audiences to stay engaged from these elements instead of throwing in popular music every second? There’s also a little too much narration for my taste, and you can tell this took inspiration from Scorsese’s hyper-style he trademarked with Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street — a style at least one big movie a year feels the urge to adapt. The movie’s script is best when it follows the psychotic nature of Cruella and her descent into darkness, which Stone wonderfully portrays and is the most intriguing part of the film. It’s also enjoyable to point out the similarities between Cruella and other popular solo movie villains like Joker and Harley Quinn (who headlined the considerably entertaining Birds of Prey), I only wish this movie embraced what worked so much about those two aforementioned films’ approach to their villains. And that’s not saying they should have gotten rid of the energy and fast pace — which does work once Estella becomes Cruella — just give the darker, more unpredictable moments of Stone’s performance room to breathe rather than be edited like a fun heist sequence from an Ocean’s Eleven movie. There’s also a few iffy moments of CGI, including the dogs and a scene involving water, that made me cringe. Cruella is entertaining, fashionable, and has fun with its concept, but feels boxed in by a soundtrack poorly edited into the film that weakens the impact of certain scenes and connections to the original IP that feel thrown in just to check boxes on a studio checklist. Those who are interested will enjoy it, as it’s certainly a good time that’s carried well by its cast, especially the insanity conveyed by Stone, but I feel like there was potential for a stronger film in the editing room.

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A Quiet Place Part II

Following the events of the predecessor, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. With both A Quiet Place and its sequel that’s now playing in theaters everywhere, John Krasinski has proven himself to be not only an awesome actor but a master filmmaker. It worries me whenever a studio greenlights a sequel to a great film that stands alone perfectly, but A Quiet Place Part II is one of the rare occasions where the sequel lives up the original, and not only that, but along with that 2018 film, is one of the best horror/thrillers of recent years. A lot of it is thanks to Krasinski’s direction and the style which made the concept and storytelling of the first film so memorable. The opening sequence is nail-biting and even though the violence is kept at a PG-13 level, the film knows where and how to scare most effectively with showing and not showing certain things. For example, we see scenes from characters’ perspectives so the aliens and action aren’t always in the frame but sometimes in the background. The cinematography and editing are great as well, but it’s the sound editing that makes the movie. It’s the small noises that make you terrified for the characters as they try to survive among creatures who can track them based on any small noise from a distance, and the sound creates its own tension without a single jump scare. The loud sound effects of the monsters contrast this excellently and make this a terrific theater experience.

Emily Blunt may be at her best in this series as a mother trying to protect her kids, including a newborn, from otherworldly threats that are a family’s worst nightmare. Cillian Murphy is also excellent as a new addition to the cast, a cynical, hopeless survivor who is changed by his time with the Abbott family. Millicent Simmonds, the deaf actress who plays the deaf daughter in the film, may be the film’s heroine as she takes on challenges courageously and delivers a stellar performance, with not only some of the most positive deaf representation I’ve ever seen in film but all around a brilliant actor and lead role. Noah Jupe, who plays the son/brother, is again excellent, and he’s proven himself with these films as well as his magnificent roles in 2019’s Ford v Ferrari and Honey Boy. And even with just a cameo, Krasinski himself makes his presence felt throughout the film, passing the courage and good-ness of his character from the last film into his children and the world of the movie. Beyond the brilliant scares, which are only strengthened by techniques such as cross-cutting that Krasinski marvelously uses to make scenes more powerful and symbolic, the film retains the heart that made its predecessor so emotional — in every frame and line, this is a movie about a monster apocalypse, but also about parenthood, family, human survival, and hope. And one can’t help but think that with a family taking back their world by venturing back into the unknown and fighting back against the apocalypse, it’s a perfect film to represent our return to theaters. I, for one, had not been to the theaters since Tenet last August, when some screens briefly reopened, and this is an impeccable choice to return to the big screen with for the thrills, sound, and amazing effects and story that will more than satisfy those who know what they’re in for, and for the shared experience we’ve been longing to have back and can finally experience for a new blockbuster once again.

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The Oscars (93rd Academy Awards) Winners

After a crazy year with movies being released in streaming and hybrid formats, the Oscars have finally happened, this time in late April! In case you missed it but want to find out who won, here you go:

Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Best Actress: Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Father
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Best Original Score: Soul
Best Original Song: “Fight for You” (from Judas and the Black Messiah)
Best Cinematography: Mank
Best Film Editing: Sound of Metal
Best Production Design: Mank
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Visual Effects: Tenet
Best Sound: Sound of Metal
Best Foreign Language Film: Another Round (from Denmark)
Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Best Live-Action Short: Two Distant Strangers

I think for what they were given, the Oscars did a good job creating an interesting show with a more intimate space and less people than the Dolby Theater. There were a lot of great winners and milestones, including Chloe Zhao as the 1st woman of color to win Best Director and the 2nd woman to win the category. My favorite win of the night was Daniel Kaluuya who I’ve been a fan of since Get Out, and blew me away as Chairman Fred Hampton. However, I was susprised by the winners for Best Actor and Actress. The expected winners were Chadwick Boseman and Carey Mulligan who I was rooting for. Boseman delivered a magnificent final performance and not only was it my favorite lead performance, it would’ve been a terrific way to honor his legacy. Mulligan was also brilliant in the provocative and unforgettable Promising Young Woman, and I would’ve awarded her — it also wasn’t so long since Frances won in that category for the fantastic Three Billboards in 2017. McDormand has now won 3 times in that category, but won an additional time this year for producing Nomadland, a unique film experience that won the biggest award of the night! Another Round is an excellent Danish film and the director Thomas Vinterburg’s speech was the most moving of the night. However, I have to give a special shoutout to the award-winning short films — Two Distant Strangers (live-action) and If Anything Happens I Love You (animated) are available on Netflix and tackle grounded issues, but I should warn you that they are guaranteed heartbreaks and both took my breath away with their creativity and messages. My Octopus Teacher is also a wonderful documentary, and this comes from someone who normally isn’t into nature docs but this one really moved me, find it on Netflix too. Many of these terrific films that won are available on streaming services including Netflix, Amazon, HBOMax and Hulu, and I beg you not to sleep on them. Seeing new entertainment releases helped me get through this unusual time without theaters — which we’ll hopefully see the return of soon!

Academy Reveals Poster Art for 93rd Oscars - Awardsdaily - The Oscars, the  Films and everything in between.

Godzilla vs Kong

The culmination of the 4-film MonsterVerse franchise pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.

This massively awaited film had plenty of promise, but ended up being a disappointment for me. What should’ve been a visually enthralling epic turned out to be a cartoonish WWE smackdown with sloppy direction and editing, and the worst writing in the franchise. The visual depth and feeling of actual destruction and danger from Godzilla: King of the Monsters is completely gone, and the visual style here is a lot less nuanced. While the storyboarding of this film must have been incredible, the CGI itself in some parts could have used some improvement to seem more seamless and epic, and a little less digital, which is odd because it had 2 years in post-production, less than its better-looking predecessor. Some cool visual moments are often ruined with silly editing choices like slo-mo and weird cuts, as well as some randomly placed rock songs that couldn’t have felt less fitting. The movie has a lighter tone than its predecessor, but unfortunately the messy editing and lackluster story aren’t willing to support that vision and maintain a style that consistently delivers.

It’s weird that a CGI giant gorilla has more emotional connection with the audience in this movie than the human characters, because that’s how I felt with Kong versus the humans in this film. And writing great characters has been a challenge for this saga before. Alexander Skarsgard is just there, and Rebecca Hall does well but her story wouldn’t have worked without her connection with this young deaf girl who communicates with Kong. Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison are solid but their story is very uninteresting. Demian Bichir plays maybe the worst character in the entire franchise, who is incredibly bland and predictable from the moment he appears. Eiza Gonzalez’s character is also very generic. While Kyle Chandler was the lead in the last film, he gets nothing to do here — he didn’t need to be a large part again, but this just adds to the underwhelming nature of the cast of great actors in this film. The one cast member who was utilized well and perfectly cast was Brian Tyree Henry, who elevates his character’s so-so writing with great comedic relief and energy. The story itself that surrounds the human and monster characters is often frustratingly cliché, with big companies conspiring around these monsters with heroes with nonexistent character development and some laughable lines of dialogue. While this is supposed to be the biggest of the franchise, it’s ironically the shortest. At only 113 minutes, it suffers from a very rushed pace that never lets the film breathe and build atmosphere and adventure. It could’ve used another 15-30 minutes. The titular fights themselves are awesome, and the choreography when Godzilla and Kong fight is very memorable. However, by the time it gets really good it feels like too little, too late, and is also short-lived because of an underwhelming and predictable climax that goes for the least emotionally rewarding or daring conclusion possible. The end of the last film also set up the idea of monsters living among humans, but that’s completely tossed aside here for far inferior storylines that have been used in so many films before. There’s also no tension present, because although there are large, exciting monster fights, the spectacle isn’t treated with enough care to build a true epic, instead feeling like a rushed cartoon that doesn’t care much about all it has to offer besides the fighting. While it may entertain those simply looking for some fulfillment on the title, it’s sad how much more this could’ve been had the movie understood the full potential it held at hand.

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Raya and the Last Dragon

Centuries after the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity in a war, Raya sets out to unite the human tribes of Kumandra once again and stop an old threat, with the help of the last dragon Sisu.

It’s easy to wonder why Disney would waste time with an easy cash-grab sequel like Frozen 2 when tasked with original films, they knock it out of the park. Raya and the Last Dragon proves so with stunning images and settings, and an engrossing adventure that, although I wish I had seen in theaters (which wasn’t possible due to the film not having a wide release, although it is available on Disney+), makes a story that would otherwise be familiar feel inviting and visually memorable. For those seeing it on the big screen, it’ll be surely unforgettable. The mythical settings and journeys to different corners of Kumandra make this feel like a more epic journey than any of Disney’s live-action films, and the skies, buildings, lights, and natural world that the characters interact with make this another achievement when it comes to animation, and its no less than another such adventure film on Disney’s resume, Moana. Kelly Marie Tran brings a complex voice character who displays optimism, empathy, bravery, rage, and determination in many stages of the film, bringing a flawed hero but one that fits perfectly into Disney’s roster of strong animated heroes. Awkwafina is a joy as Sisu and brings much needed comedic relief and enjoyment to an already great movie. Ever since her amazing performance in The Farewell, the actress/comedian has proven to be a treasure in Hollywood. She was such an inspired and wholesome choice to voice the charismatic dragon who, although 500 years old, has a youthful energy to her as she is figuring out how to be a hero as much as Raya. Benedict Wong is also excellent as a supporting hero. While there are no one-sided villains, Gemma Chan certainly plays a standout character, and Sandra Oh and Daniel Dae Kim are great too as the parents of Chan and Tran’s characters, respectively.

The chemistry between Tran and Awkwafina’s characters, the breathtaking animation, and the large scale are the binding elements of what make this movie another instant classic. The imaginative worlds and challenges the leads face through new settings, as well as the colorful and lively action sequences, felt as exciting to me as it would to child audiences. While the film’s emotional core and themes aren’t as moving as Soul‘s, which I think had some of the strongest messages in animation lately, the movie does have touching messages that will definitely work especially for younger audiences, and serve the story well enough, about choosing trust and empathy over greed and fighting. It’s only unfortunate that Disney didn’t wait for everyone to experience this film theatrically, as it’s one of their most visually imaginative films in years. But that’s another story. Whether you do seek it out in a theater near you or stream it on Disney+, watch it with your family and loved ones.

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The 78th Golden Globe Awards

Last night, the Golden Globes honored a hectic year of movies and television. Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: Nomadland

Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Actor – Drama: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress – Drama: Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Rosamund Pike – I Care a Lot

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian

Best Screenplay: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: “Io Si (Seen)” from The Life Ahead

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Best Foreign Language Film: Minari (USA)

I was mostly satisfied by the winners, even though the presentation was far from perfect with the hybrid in-person/virtual format. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did their best but clearly they thrive best with a full audience and even though they tried to stick it to the HFPA’s controversies, Ricky Gervais did a much better job last year. The nominees were also far from perfect — Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was completely shut out. Minari won Best Foreign Language Film because it is mostly in Korean, but sparked controversy because it was produced in America, so why not let it qualify for Best Drama? In my opinion, cinema is cinema and the boundary of subtitles is simply an addition to watching a film when it’s in a different language, not an obstacle. Sia’s directioral debut Music was nominated despite apparently having an offensive representation of autism, and Hamilton, while culturally resonant, was a filmed musical, not really a movie. So in that weak comedy category, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was the only decent one in my opinion (but still not excellent), while Emma, On the Rocks, and The King of Staten Island would’ve made for great nominees over Hamilton, Music, and The Prom. There was also the controversy coming up of the lack of black members in the HFPA. While this was addressed and needs to continue to be addressed, a large number of black artists did also win awards during the ceremony, including the incredible Daniel Kaluuya who took my breath away as Fred Hampton. Another deserving win was the late Chadwick Boseman, who delivered one of the best performances of the year and his wife paid touching tribute to the legend as he won posthumously. Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director for her unique work in Nomadland, and there was a record number of female director nominees, including Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Regina King for One Night in Miami — all three were deserving of a nomination to me. However, the one win I disagree with was Andra Day — she was amazing in her debut role, but having seen all 5 of the films in her category, I think all 4 of the other performances were superior. Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby were groundbreaking in their respective films, and I wish one of them had won. Jane Fonda also won a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in films, TV, and activism throughout the decades.

2021 Golden Globe Nominations: See the Full List | Entertainment Tonight

Soul

In Pixar’s latest film, which after delays from theaters, is now out on Disney+, Joe Gardner is a music teacher who aspires to make it big as a jazz pianist. However, on a big day where his dreams start to get closer, he gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body, bringing him to the You Seminar, a limbo where souls are prepared to start a life on Earth. He goes on an existential journey through New York with another soul and learns the true purpose of life.

Soul brings no less to the screen than the lively, all-ages-friendly adventures that Pixar has made us used to. Director Pete Docter, who has brought to life Pixar classics like Monsters Inc. and Up, brings the same wondrous animation and spirit to Soul that he brought to Inside Out. The streets of New York are depicted with such realism and beautiful, diverse energy. The You Seminar is also portrayed vividly although not difficult to compare to the animated corners of Riley’s brain in Inside Out. Within the first few seconds, Jamie Foxx proves to be perfectly cast as Joe Gardner, who aspires to become a famous musician while teaching middle school and living up to the expectations of his mother, also perfectly played by Phylicia Rashad (who you may know as the titular character’s mother in Creed and its sequel). Tina Fey delivers a great voice performance as Soul 22, a both unenthusiastic and curious/energetic soul who has her reservations about starting a full life on Earth. Graham Norton, in what I believe is his first film role outside of himself in Eurovision Song Contest, is funny and entertaining in a supporting role. However, an absolute standout for me was Angela Bassett, whose immediately recognizable voice brings ferocity and status, exactly what was needed for her part — Dorothea Williams, a respected jazz musician and sax player whose band Joe hopes to join.

With every following year, I realize more and more how intricately mature Pixar’s films are to not just appeal to kids, but also tug on the heartstrings of adult audiences, and never compromise the entertainment for any age group, even with a film like this that has some physical comedy. Like I said, the lovely animation is hard not to appreciate — even small details like cars passing by feel rhythmic. At first I was surprised by how quickly the story gets going but as the film progresses, it develops Joe even more with his decisions in and out of his body. The plot also manages to play with concepts about life, history, and souls in believable and fun ways. It’s easy to notice borrowed elements from Inside Out and Coco, though, especially the visual tones of the former and the afterlife aspect of the latter. The writing is also a little all over the place in a few moments, but ultimately nails its themes. It’s a film that reminds you to live in the moment and amount life not just to our goals, but to every cherished memory we have with our world, ourselves, and our loved ones. Viewers will be able to connect as the film emphasizes the passions we all chase and can’t live without, and stresses the importance of those things that “bring out the real you”, but reminds you to embrace every minute of life on the way.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her in 1984 facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah. This highly anticipated sequel was finally released simultaneously in theaters and streaming at home on HBOMax.

The first film inspired many viewers with its hopeful messages and the fierce, courageous hero played by Gal Gadot, whose performance became a symbol of female empowerment in thru superhero genre and all around the world. The charm, optimism, and tone that made the first film special are still here, and director Patty Jenkins still does a good job bringing the gigantic action to the screen, with better visual effects than its predecessor. From the exciting opening scene in Themyscira, you are reminded as to why this corner of the DC Extended Universe is one of the most notable. Gadot again brings genuine humanity and morality to Diana, inspiring us all to work together and see the beauty in the world. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is again great, although his death in the previous film makes his appearance here a little less welcoming, as he doesn’t feel as adventurous and memorable. However, the movie handles emotional moments between them really well, and their coupling still helps drive the film forward. Kristen Wiig, beloved for comedies like Bridesmaids and SNL, does really well as Barbara Minerva, who is very humanized through her performance and introduction. However, her character’s drastic transformation is when her writing became insufficient and unbelievable, and feels like a wasted opportunity that deserved much better. Pedro Pascal is now highly popular with TV audiences, not only as the titular Mandalorian but also for fans of Narcos and Game of Thrones, as well as with action movie fans for Kingsman and Triple Frontier. For those reasons, I was very excited about his casting, but his performance is such a huge step down from his famed presence in other franchises — his silly character is made worse with awful dialogue and a villain plot that I can only compare to Jafar from Aladdin. And because the conflict isn’t that great, that really hurts the movie. This makes a lot of the script feel over-the-top, including the objective feeling very cartoonish and the messages becoming muddled.

The pacing isn’t as slow as another lengthy DCEU movie, Batman v Superman, was, but still felt like an issue; the first one at 141 minutes seemed to pace itself well and fly by briskly, but at one point during WW84‘s 151-minute runtime, I was starting to feel like the story should jump to the action quicker. Much of the buildup entertaining, but in some instances I was hoping for the film to pick up and get to the point more speedily. This is by no means a film that’s hard to get through; like I said, the tone is still fun and heartfelt, and the action is really good, with some good set pieces like a mall fight, and other strong settings where the fights take place, as well as Wonder Woman getting to show off some new powers. The set design that reminisces the 80s feels lively and great, although it takes advantage of the time period less than expected (I can’t help but compare that Stranger Things utilized its 80s setting in a more memorable manner). Even though the backdrop for the final act is excellent, it ultimately feels wasted (both Wonder Woman movies have had a villain reciting a terrible evil monologue and I don’t know why the writers felt the need to keep it). There’s also themes about women dealing with catcalling and insecurities about their looks that feel underdeveloped, or needless as not much is done with that. The first movie’s simplicity helped it work better, but the goals and messages here start to feel overcomplicated to the point where I wish the film had stuck to the simple ideas that made the first movie more thoughtful and inspiring. The layout for the hero’s journey is there; Diana has wants that don’t quite coincide with her needs and the greater good, and so a choice must be made. But the film isn’t strongest when dealing with humanity’s greed and desire for self-interests, it’s when it deals with the love, unity, and heroism we should all see in ourselves and others. This sense of inspiration and optimism is the golden strength of both Wonder Woman films, but I wish the road to get there was less long and windy, and a little more fresh. Also, don’t get up quite yet when the credits start; there’s a cameo that will get all generations of audiences to feel excited. In summary, this is a sequel that retains many great elements from its predecessor and will satisfy comic book fans and those who were moved by the first, but the weak conflict and subpar writing hurt the film and make it, while entertaining, less than wonder-ful. The one thing that’s always consistent is Gadot’s acting and the heart she gives to the titular heroine we all love.

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Mulan (2020)

Like the animated musical that inspired it, Disney’s live-action Mulan is based on an ancient legend of a young warrior who defies gender norms in an act of courage to protect her family and home land.

Last year, the shot-for-shot replicas of Aladdin and The Lion King made more money than amazing movies like 1917 and Parasite due to pure audience nostalgia, and that says everything about today’s movie demographics and Disney’s future priorities. However, unlike those other remakes, I had much to look forward to with Mulan as it seemed like a less cartoonish, fantasy-driven take on a tale that wasn’t even so Disney-like to start with. Mulan is a movie that’s definitely on the higher end of the remake spectrum — definitely below The Jungle Book but probably at the same level as Beauty and the Beast. This isn’t a difficult movie to enjoy — the scenery is lively, the acting is solid, and the story is easy to follow especially when you know what it’s going for. So while I appreciate the attempt to make something somewhat different, Disney was unable to step out of the previous film’s shadow without removing the heart that the original had. I don’t care about talking dragons or bursting into song, but even an empowering movie like this somehow felt devoid of emotional connection due to lack of character. It’s very much confusing as to whether it’s trying to still be a charming kid’s movie or a serious war movie. On one hand, you have the childish elements removed, and a PG-13 rating to focus on action scenes, but then you have a witch who can turn into a bird and Mulan basically fighting with… the Force? I’m not one to nitpick about “How could this possibly work in real life?” when I watch a movie, let alone a Disney fantasy film, but she does so many stunts that seem physically implausible and only make sense if you’re some sort of Jedi or one of the heroes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There isn’t even a throwaway line about Mulan maybe having a strong connection to nature or her physical side, she just magically is the greatest acrobat and fighter in the world and we don’t even see her develop these abilities like the rest of the soldiers, which pushes us even farther from our iconic hero.

Liu Yifei does well as the titular character with what she’s given, but I wish the director and writers showed her emotional journey more, as her entire development feels defined only by the “woman defying gender norms” and “Loyal Brave and True” mottos. The rest of the cast feels underutilized especially Donnie Yen, an acclaimed performer who’s already proven himself to film lovers in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well as the Ip Man movies. Instead of seeing an interesting teacher-student relationship between Commander Tung and Mulan, he only serves for one scene of dramatic irony and one trust/distrust contrast moment. Tzi Ma does an excellent job as Mulan’s father, and her mother’s actress is also good, but we don’t see much of them either — same goes for Jet Li who is really great as the Emperor. There’s also a character who befriends Mulan and is the first one to really trust in her but the connection feels oddly one-sided. And the villains are awful, both the cartoonish Bori Khan and the equally pointless and emotionless shapeshifting witch. The visuals are very creative, especially the lovely scenery used for wide shots and battle sequences. The standouts include an amazing shot of a fight scene on a geyser, and the sequences in the Imperial City, that I could even see scoring the film an Oscar nomination for Production Design. The story is entertaining again to follow, especially when you remember the spirit of the story you already know, and when you follow conversations between the young soldiers, as well as the training montage where you can’t help but recall the awesome song that’s originally thee in the animation. The final battle is especially cool, but the film is greatly hurt — this may even be the film’s greatest flaw — by the horrendous editing. The random moments of slo-mo, as well as rushing through sequences in a montage fashion, is especially what hurt important character and scene-building moments, and letting the action play out for longer would’ve strengthened the spectacle. So while I did enjoy Mulan for the most part and had a positive impression of it when it ended (speaking of which, the end credits are gorgeous), something felt missing throughout which is that charm and energy that’s present in most terrific family films. It isn’t fully felt until a touching final scene where the messages unify and become clearer and more impactful to the plot. It’s a fun family watch, an important story about breaking down stereotypes and who “can” and “can’t” fulfill certain duties, but an extra 10-20 minutes of runtime, as well as stronger utilization of the cast and a more consistent emotional pull not just to the empowerment theme but also to the characters and world of the story, would’ve made this a more satisfying and excellent remake like we hoped for.

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Tenet

Whenever auteur Christopher Nolan makes a movie, he makes it impossible for it to disappear in the crowd of films being made. His approach to making and presenting films transcend being just a movie, he always crafts an experience. A Christopher Nolan movie is an event, and for years his audiences have craved not only his strong writing and style, but his ability to immerse the viewer in the plot through practicality, tension, and premium formats like IMAX, and challenge them with nail-biting questions and inventive concepts. Tenet is an experience, and a marvelous one for that matter. From the opening moments my jaw dropped as the clock immediately starts ticking with an unpredictable action sequence. The loud sound effects engulfed my ears and the realistically crafted action glued my eyes to the screen, in an unparalleled fashion. Nolan’s partner for 3 films, Hoyte van Hoytema, handles the cinematography beautifully, whether it’s for making the real action feel present or having incredible shots of locations such as the Italian Amalfi Coast and the streets of London. The director’s commitment to practicality makes for more urgent, nail-biting action and of course appeals to the eye. 

John David Washington portrays an action hero whose grace feels reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s performance in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Robert Pattinson is also great as Washington’s partner, delivering charm and fun as opposed to his darker performances in Good Time and The Lighthouse. Elizabeth Debicki delivers a lot of heart and soul to the film and Kenneth Branagh is also memorable as her husband, though it’s hard to be surprised when Branagh does something praiseworthy — at this point, he’s done it all! Dimple Kapadia also delivers a nuanced performance, and Michael Caine also makes a welcome appearance, as he has in nearly every Nolan film! However, I would argue that some of the younger famous talents, such as Himesh Patel, Clemence Poesy, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were underutilized considering their remarkable past performances and their intriguing small roles here.


Like I said, Nolan’s grand and large-scale approach to everything he makes pays off with Hoyte van Hoytema’s gorgeous camerawork, and the booming sound effects and music by Ludwig Goransson (Oscar winner for Black Panther), whose inspired work seamlessly follows in the footsteps of Nolan’s past collaborations with Hans Zimmer while leaving enough room for himself to invent. However, the loud sound and music does sometimes overshadow dialogue which is a slight issue at times. The other important point is the script’s complexity. Nolan invents new concepts involving time, physics, and science and expresses them in a way that some may find hard to follow or lament as confusing. I personally found myself lost at times because a lot of exposition is spoken very quickly by the characters, and this is problematic when you have a lot of rules and objectives that you’re hearing about for the first time. This movie even outdoes Inception and Interstellar for how complex these themes and ideas are — and for some, confusing. Even those two aforementioned films have a lot of complex new ideas as well, they felt more accessible than the way the exposition is delivered here. And of course, that always means more rewatches are warranted which is also fun, but it’s also okay to admit that there could’ve been a clearer way to help audiences follow, even to Nolan fans like myself who love the intricacies that the filmmaker invented in those other films (which for the record aren’t also easy to comprehend in one viewing). This doesn’t take away from the spectacle and excitement that is to behold in many of the sequences that are unlike any action set pieces ever put to film. But the film did occasionally lose me in a few fast-talking scenes that clouded some of my understanding of some later scenes’ objectives and motives.

Christopher Nolan is also known for having big endings, and while some massive things do happen and get revealed (don’t worry, I won’t commit the movie sin of spoiling a Nolan movie’s plot), there’s some reward left to be wished for when compared to the “totem question” of Inception, or the resolution of Cooper and his daughter’s storyline in Interstellar. There still is so much to be discovered under the surface which is always a lovely thing, but I think the moments of revelation, tension, and mystery in the final sequences needed more catharsis to get a stronger reaction. Only time will tell how much this film’s mysteries linger with us audiences — looking back and discovering new things afterwards is always a perk of Nolan’s adventures.

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