Calling Cruella the best Disney live-action adaptation is like calling any video-game movie the best video-game movie. The bar is so low that even a competent movie will probably be considered ‘the best’. Thankfully, Cruella is at least competent, if not spectacular.
The movie succeeds whenever either Emma is on-screen – particularly Emma Thompson. Emma Stone is fine, although her depiction of the villain is considerably ‘safer’ than the cartoon version. The rest of the plot is mostly filler, the number of songs used is comically annoying, and the CGI dogs land squarely in the uncanny valley.
In short, it’s generally fine – with some editing, it could have set the bar even higher. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for the spectacle and the Devil Wears Prada-esque power plays between the two leading ladies.
2: A Quiet Place Part II
Did we really need another A Quiet Place? No more than we needed a live-action reboot of a 1960s Disney villain. But here we are…
As with most sequels, if you like the first one, you’ll probably like this one, and vice versa. The intro was phenomenal, and was the perfect way to have John Krasinski in the film (spoiler alert – he doesn’t show up for the rest of the movie). If anything it felt cut short. Once we reached the finale, I thought we were at the end of act two. Ah well.
Also, Cillian Murphy is fine.
Pixar movies typically have three things going for them: high-quality animation, innovative world-building, and engaging storytelling. Luca checks two of the three boxes – it’s light on the world-building, but succeeds brilliantly on the other two.
Which isn’t to say there’s no world-building. We do have the world of the Italian village, and we have a bit of the underwater world. But it’s not like Soul, Inside Out or Monster’s Inc, where we’re entering a completely new realm with its own set of rules. For the most part, Luca takes place in the real world, albeit from the perspective of fantastical characters exploring the world with fresh eyes.
Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant, wholesome, fun diversion. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments that adults will appreciate as much as kids, and the animation is breathtaking. Even a ‘lesser’ Pixar movie is leagues better than its competitors.
4: In the Heights
In the heights!
I’m not thrilled that it took five years for another great movie musical to be released – movies like La La Land should be the norm, not the exception. Thankfully, the wait was worth it. In the Heights is a vibrant, delightful, get-swept-up-in-the-songs sort of experience. I haven’t seen the original musical, but bravo to Jon Chu for what appears to be a phenomenal adaptation.
The movie has a lot going for it: excellent choreography; mostly solid acting (particularly Anthony Ramos as Usnavi); immersive, exciting production design; and a number of memorable songs, my favorites being 96,000 and Paciencia y Fe.
There were a few downsides, which unfortunately stand out more amidst such an excellent backdrop of a film. With all due respect to Melissa Barrera, her portrayal of Vanessa wasn’t endearing, so the ending was a bit of a letdown. And it’s a running joke that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are comically clunky. As an example: The neighborhood salon is the place I am working for the moment… The neighborhood salon doesn’t pay me what I wanna be making, but I don’t mind.
But overall, the movie is fantastic. Definitely a great way to usher in the post-demic era, and definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
5: The Sparks Brothers
Directed by Edgar Wright, The Sparks Brothers is about the most influential musical group you’ve never heard of. The documentary is solid, albeit not as spectacular as some of Wright’s other movies. Then again, it’s a documentary, not a comedy or a blockbuster, so that’s to be expected.
The duo in question does indeed seem highly influential in the development of modern music, and the documentary does the brothers justice. They’re shown to be genuine artists who constantly innovate, constantly surprise, and would prefer to be true to their vision rather than sell out.
Hence the high praise and legacy that they’ve left (and continue to leave – they’re still going strong). If documentaries are more your speed, or you’re interested in the evolution of modern music, then this one is well worth your time.