I love movies and games. More than anything, I love writing about movies and games. I don’t always have the energy to do it. There’s a good reason for that: I don’t always have the most to say. I usually have a lot to say if I don’t like something, which may paint me as a very negative character, but that’s because I gives me the opportunity to deconstruct the things I don’t like so I can better enjoy the things that I do. I’ll be fair in saying that I absolutely have gone through a phase of shitting on things that I haven’t touched and using word-of-mouth in my so called “critique” because I had time to kill. There are still a few reviews I wrote for gamefaqs.com that I need to remove for that reason alone. It takes, like, two seconds to do so maybe I’ll do it after I’m done writing this.
Anyway, tagent aside, what I was getting at is that sometime it’s better to have summaries of my opinions. So, without further ado: here are some new movies I watched this month. I was tempted to write about Borat 1 and 2 because I just saw them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but both films have been out for so long that there’s nothing I can really say that hasn’t been said to death already.
Those Who Wish Me Dead
I was actually surprised by Those Who Wish Me Dead. Not by any of its plot devices or characters, but just by how much I enjoyed it. I wrote in my review for Wrath of Man that dumb-fun movies need to be built as dumb-fun in order to work. Those Who Wish Me Dead is good proof of this. This movie is, by no means, intelligent or original. It is exactly what you would expect from a protection thriller (a term I’d like to believe I’ve coined for thrillers where the main conceit of the plot revolves around an escort quest between an older figure and a young and vulnerable figure), sans the child firing rounds into the bad guys while spouting quippy one-liners. In fact, if you’re going into this expecting cheesy one-liners, there’s only two. This is a small-scale story that features a cast in the single digits. The end result is a movie that feels focused, even if it isn’t always the most compelling. The antagonist and protagonist are mostly one-note, but what stops them from being boring is that you can feel the conviction their characters have. Going back to Wrath of Man, one of the main issues I had with that movie is that, while the antagonists had motives, none of them were interesting. In Those Who Wish Me Dead, the duo of villains actually feels threatening. They will kill you indiscriminately, burn the evidence, and pretend that it never happened. I will say that, again, they are two dimensional. You never get a good look at their personal beliefs other than a child and his father must be killed to keep the peace. They are your bogstandard FBI characters. Which all brings me back to what I started this review with: this is a fairly derivative movie. This is a fairly derivative movie that’s effective, though, so I don’t see that as much of a complaint unless you’re really looking for something new.
FINAL SCORE: C
I loved I, Tonya. As a matter of fact, I still contend that it’s very close to being my favorite movie of 2017. If The Disaster Artist and Get Out weren’t released that year, it would absolutely top my list. I, Tonya was a ridiculous true story backed by a fantastic soundtrack, visually mesmerizing scenes, and some of the best preformances of the year. I usually don’t want Oscar movies after I’m done with them, but I, Tonya sits right next to Parasite in being an exception to that rule.
So, what did I think of Cruella? In a phrase, less is certainly more. Take the scene in I, Tonya set to Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger and make that almost the entire fucking movie and you have Cruella. I am a massive Supertramp fan; it is tempting for me to turn the rest of this review into a discussion about how much I love most of their albums when Cruella begins with Bloody Well Right, a song that did chart as a single back when it was released but has since been overshadowed by Give a Little Bit and sheer girth of Breakfast in America’s singles to the point where you’ll only know of it if you were a fan of them back them or have heard Crime of the Century. But, as much of a fan of Supertramp as I am, the first seconds of this movie happily let you know what you’re in for. The number of needle drops in this movie is cool at first, but quickly becomes nauseating. I love a good needle drop, but the reason the best ones work is because they’re used sparingly. Going back to the I, Tonya reference, there’s a good reason that scene has stuck with me for as long as it has. One, I already love the song they used; two, the way the scene flows together is elegant; and three, there weren’t really a whole lot of needle drops in I, Tonya–or, at least, not as many as there were in Cruella. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to be focusing in on three. There were quite a few needle drops in I, Tonya, but most of them made sense. In Cruella, did you really need Bloody Well Right at the start? Okay, fine, my massive bias is saying that it would cry if that was taken out. But a lot of the other music falls into this trap of being there because it is, and it quickly becomes monotonous. All of the joy of hearing a song that I liked was drained when I had already heard a lot of songs that I liked. I don’t watch movies to listen to a Spotify playlist.
Now, the rest of the film was at least better. I will say that Cruella was better than I was expecting it to be. Less is certainly more, but the costume design for this movie begs to differ. I don’t have a good eye for fashion, I’m the type of person to wear whatever’s in my drawer with no regard for how it looks on me. But there were dresses in this movie that genuinely wowed me. One of them surprised me, but I don’t want to get into spoiler talk, so I’ll just say the way it was implemented into the story was brilliant. When Cruella is good, it’s quite a bit of fun. Helping this is Emma Stone’s great preformance. The actual characterization of Cruella as a character felt a little hammy at times, but she brought the material to life far better than anything else could.
Let’s talk about comparisons to Joker. Joker is known for being a popular movie among edgelords, a breath of fresh air or a miserable pile of contradictory wank that ultimately says nothing depending on who you ask (I’d like to think I’m in-between both of those camps), and rewriting the villain movie as a standalone story with minimal interactions with the source material. I bring up Joker because the only way you could have a Cruella origin story is to rewrite her character, so she does not, in fact, want to skin one hundred and one dogs for a fur coat. Going into the movie, that’s what I was expecting, and going out, that’s what I got. Bizarrely enough, Cruella is almost like an opposite version of Joker. The Joker you know and love is a crazed lunatic with a laugh, not a man who slowly descends into madness and violence. By the end of Joker, you are not supposed to be rooting for his character. Although I think the movie is flawed with some of the ideas that it has, ultimately, the idea is to make, you empathize with someone you would normally want to run away from. Cruella isn’t like that. The issue I have with Cruella isn’t that the movie doesn’t end with a Walk Hard freeze-frame describing how her character went on to kill three hundred and six puppies while under scrutiny for tax evasion; it’s that it doesn’t really commit to the idea of the central character being a bad person that you can understand. By the end of the movie, yeah, fuck that person you just screwed over; they deserved it. The Baroness is too comically evil for Cruella to stand out as an anti-hero. You might say that they couldn’t really commit to her being morally grey because it’s Disney, and why would you expect anything else… but that’s the problem. If your brand doesn’t permit you to make movies with mature themes, don’t tease the audience with movies that might have mature themes. As much fun as I had with Cruella, it pains me to admit that it’s essentially Joker but with less substance, the cynical rehash I feared it might be.
And before anyone says anything: yes, I saw Malificent, and no, I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it, either, but that’s a conversation for another time.
FINAL SCORE: C+
A QUIET PLACE: PART II
[SPOILER WARNING FOR THE FIRST MOVIE]
So, funny thing about this one. I was in a film studies class with my dad last class, and A Quiet Place was the last movie we saw before COVID shut everything down. I remember this because there were a couple of kids in our class (one of them might have been me, I hardly remember) brought up that a sequel was coming out soon.
Anyway, now that more than a year has passed, I can say with confidence that A Quiet Place: Part II was worth the wait.
I’ll admit that I didn’t love the original movie. I never saw it in theaters, I was only seeing it for the first time when it played during our class. Seeing Part II in a theater reaffirmed to me that that’s why I didn’t love it as much as I could have. A Quiet Place benefits more from where you’re watching it than it does from its script, special effects, or any of its actors. Part II is more of the same. Not in a derivative, “oh boy, here we go again” kind of thing. Following up the ending of the first movie wasn’t impossible, but it had to be done carefully. For the kind of movie it was, it ended perfectly. Narratively, it was a bit anti-climatic, but it still made sense. The biggest trick Part II pulls is not nullifying the revelation that was found in the original movie or dampening it, but bringing it to its logical conclusion. Obviously, you can’t kill every creature you see. Using distorted sound and a gun is a last ditch effort, and even then, you still might get killed. This is brilliant because it allows for there to be a remaining air of tension. Even though you know it’s entirely possible for the cast of characters to put one creature down, you fear that another might sneak up and cut their journey short.
Another trick that I loved about Part II are the creatures themselves. We know what they look like now, the cat’s out of the bag. But where they came from, why they’re here, and what their purpose is is unclear and I’m all for that. My parents were saying that the next film should explore the context of the creatures being here, but I think doing so will miss the point of both parts one and two. These are small-scale stories about people. They’re twists on the conventions of the survival genre. There are areas of Part II that threaten to remove the focus on the monsters, but these areas are short-lived and feel necessary for the story being told.
And now I will talk about the opening scene. No spoilers, I’m not going to say exactly what happens. But, as you might know from the trailers, it starts on Day One. Like revealing why the aliens are here, this could have been a very bad idea. But instead of being an exposition dump filled with dramatic irony, it instead puts in the shoes of the characters. The culmination of this is one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen in any movie that’s come out recently. It’s tense, it’ll make you nervous, and it sets the mood perfectly.
The only bad thing I have to say about Part II is that, again, this is a movie that’s best watched in certain environments. Other than that, this is the best new movie I’ve seen this month.
FINAL SCORE: A-