Cinema of Cruellaty

Movie theaters have forsaken the art film audience and now cater directly to the record-the-first-ten-minutes-and-immediately-text crowd.

Recent movie business news has Amazon buying MGM but what does that really mean? If you want to go toe-to-toe regarding studio owned intellectual property Disney will always trump challengers through sheer numbers.

Even Paramount, a company so desperate for a new hit they’re willing to pump the most overrated horror flick in recent years to trilogy status, would kick MGM’s ass with “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” versus “Rocky” and “Robocop.”

It takes moxie to make franchise films as emotionally hollow and ultimately meaningless as “A Quiet Place Part II” or “Cruella.” On a positive note both films contain actors who know how to hit their marks.

Emma Stone can chew scenery as well as any movie star to appear before the lens and she proves it as “Cruella,” which unwinds without a real sense as to whether it’s a prequel to “101 Dalmatians” or a revisionist take of the character origins of Cruella de Vil.

A similar film in concept, the recent “Joker,” went for the jugular with pit bull pressure. By contrast “Cruella” issues feeble squawks in place of actual threats. Even though luxurious production values (especially costumes and design natch) and high contrast sheen suck you in the story itself never evolves in a dynamic way. You feel no rooting emotion for any of the characters.

Young orphaned Cruella lives in abandoned houses with fellow street urchins Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry). Hauser in particular nails his character and seems to be channeling Bob Hoskins. Director Craig Gillespie, far from the territory he mined with films like “Lars and the Real Girl” and “I, Tonya,” gives the proceedings a timeless quality like the story is taking place in a Disney Neverland.

One three-shot posits the adult Cruella, Horace and Jasper as though they’re misunderstood goths wandering through a long forgotten Jim Jarmusch paradise or even a Gregg Araki film bereft of androgyny.

“Cruella” constantly reminds that we’re not that far removed from routine Disney family entertainment of the 1960s like “In Search of the Castaways” or Blackbeard’s Ghost.”

Despite the less than enthusiastic delivery on display there’s something special about the thought of puppies Pongo and Perdita making a comeback in yet another movie. Have you ever met another movie character named Perdita other than “Perdita Durango?”

“A Quiet Place Part II” perpetuates the notion that its super-hearing monsters from outer space can withstand critical scrutiny. Best not to pry into the plot holes dotted like Swiss cheese on its bologna sandwich premise.

A broken world heightened by deserted factory spaces where our cast lives provides most of the atmosphere for this sequel to the surprise hit delayed over a year by the pandemic. This film was literally set to open the week theaters were shut down at the onset of Covid mania. If nothing else we should be celebrating the return of pseudo cinema.

Director John Krasinski separates the cast with daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) on a trek to the East Coast location of an active radio along with redneck neighbor Emmett (Cillian Murphy sliding into a beard and gimmie cap with masterful shape shifting ease) contrasted by Mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt, real life partner with Krasinski) and brother Marcus (Noah Jupe, a real crybaby in this installment) hunkered down in their industrial hiding place.

Simmonds in particular should be given accolades as she commands the frame in scene after scene. Simmonds was great in the criminally underrated “Wonderstruck” and more than steals the show here.

Krasinski cuts back and forth between the story threads in a key sequence. At first the effect is suspenseful – a door opens with Mom on the other side and we cut a door opening at another location with Regan. But Krasinski never stops repeating his motif. After a while it feels like a gimmick. The entire film feels gimmicky.

As for the monsters they move with more mobility. Attention is paid to their joint structure and we get a closer look at the inside of their mouth orifice. You’re the dentist for the new millennium alien.

An opening sequence takes place before the events of the previous movie gives characters that were killed in the original an encore cameo. “A Quiet Place Part II” never effectively uses the sounds of silence to the same effect as in the first film. The entire affair unfolds like a television version of previous events.

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