Did you hear L&D are back?!?

Well, you might be the first to hear, because the Marcus Theater employees didn’t recognize us, and they didn’t hold the movie for us, either. Our preferred theater generally runs 20 minutes worth of preliminaries, so the movie starts roughly 21 minutes after the posted time as L&D are settling in; but in this post-Covid world, evidently, they sometimes cut the trailers short for the late movies so the staff can get out a few minutes early. So we missed the previews and whatever would-be hilarity Greg Marcus is bringing these days, and also missed the opening opening of the movie.

That said, we probably missed a lot of other stuff, too. This movie is sensory overload, for sure, in a good way. Early in the movie they were doing this blur tactic on moving camera shots that I couldn’t quite get accustomed to. By mid-movie I was thinking we were sitting too close to the screen because it was hard to keep track of everything going on. There was explosive color, lots of colors, lots of colors moving across the screen in every direction, more pixels than your brain could ever hope to handle.

And a lot of black and white, too, of course. The most colorful black and white you are ever likely to see.

Although it’s a lot of work watching this, the audio helps a lot. The selections set or match the mood of the scenes pretty well, and when old vinyl doesn’t suffice, it does a nice job of making its own. My conjecture is that the music complements the visuals, allowing your brain to make sense of all that’s up on screen. I did turn on the soundtrack afterwards, as L told you I would, but I think that unlike Rushmore or Pulp Fiction or Baby Driver, this one doesn’t seem to keep my interest without the film rolling. Possibly because unlike those other movies, this is more of a (really) fun-to-watch-at-the-theater movie for me, and not a serious candidate for my attention going forward. Who knows?

Certainly I didn’t know much about this moving going in,* just that it’s Disney and it’s the backstory for Cruella, sure. Even so, it is clear that the primary challenge for the writers is that Emma Stone is so awesome that you just have to love her, and she’s sure easy to love as Estella, but they can’t quite figure out how to turn her into pure evil. Or, more likely, they just can’t bring themselves to do it. I don’t know the actual 101 Dalmatians story, but I am guessing the original Cruella isn’t a sympathetic, misunderstood genius; in this origin story, Cruella is the heroine, that much is for sure.

At any rate, Disney movies don’t get too much better than this. The soundtrack keeps things moving along. The set pieces are generally fun, sort of like if Wes Andersen had a $100 zillion dollar budget and ordered up costumes and materials for three or four movies, and then Disney kicked him out and put in its own people. That’s not quite accurate, but certainly a starting point for discussion. The supporting actors were very good, dogs watching footy made me lol, the heist scenes were generally solid (if a bit overdone), the plot was mostly non-obvious, good fun all around. And after 60 hours of productions featuring lions mauling and being mauled, superheroes killing and being killed, Jedis behaving badly, and full-scale intergalactic warfare, Disney finally got around to showing blood in one of its films.

And what a great punchline that was!

So, see Cruella, you will like it. And, if not, at least you will like the soundtrack.

Also, watch this space for potential curling and National Rugby League updates. L&D is back in business.


*Taco Bell appeared to be closed on the way by, so the usually reliable TBI was not available. On the way back it still appeared to be closed, though there was a pretty good queue at the drive thru window. It’s a great big world.

Cruella Duella

As the Assistant Directors like to say after lunch on set: “We’re Baaaack!, We’re Baaaack!, We’re Baaaack!” 

But hopefully you’re happier to hear that than the crew. …We are. 

Cruella stars Emma Stone who we’ve seen convincingly blast zombies, work her way up the royal hierarchy and dance on LA freeways. In this role she kicks ass and takes no prisoners (sans three Dalmatians). One of the best things I can say about this movie is that it almost —almost!— doesn’t feel like a an overproduced Disney picture. To give you an idea, the budget on this production is larger than the GDP of several nations. Yes, they are all small Pacific island nations but nations with a seat at the UN nevertheless. At one point, a great daybreak shot with Cruella jetting on a scooter she just jacked, the film almost takes on the flavor of the DC Comics universe (which is owned by Time-Warner who is owned by AT&T, not Disney). And Emma Stone is so good (I refuse to gush about her like I always do). She simply elevates any film she is in. She brings it. I truly wonder what role she would love to play if given the opportunity. Maybe it will be the next movie she produces.  

So it feels like a pretty grown-up film, for a kids film. The production value is absolutely off the charts. And an army of people did amazing work on this technically flawless show. 

There are a few cool story twists. One in particular that I won’t name involves things that fly. And there is also a great supporting acting. In particular the performance of Paul Walter Hauser who also shined in Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell”. Emma Thompson held her own as Cruella’s foil. The casting and performances were top-notch across-the-board.

The soundtrack was amazing. I think it may be the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a movie, with plenty of deep tracks from the likes of Queen, Nina Simone and Tina Turner. At least the best since Baby Driver or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.  D turned to me and said he would be playing the soundtrack at work tomorrow.

Ultimately this film is all about style, StYlE. STYLE!!! —And it does that well. The plot is absurd and predictable but there are also enough cool twists to keep you interested. Overall, Cruella was an entertaining, check your brain at the door movie and a lot of fun. 

The Favourite

the fave emma stone.jpg

As D mentioned right after we watched it, The Favourite was the best film this year in its depiction of power relationships. I would agree, though our top pick, Death of Stalin and another great one, Phantom Thread, went a long way in that regard as well. 

The Favourite goes for it in terms of artistic license and cinematic technique: stylistically, in its depiction of sexuality, choreography and language.  It is a bold film. Yet its visual style at times didn’t work for me. Panning on a Steadicam with an ultra wide lens on, unless you are after some type of motion sickness, is not a great idea. We get it, Kensington Palace is massive, you want us to see that. Okay. But just trade up a few focal lengths, stop down a smidge so you can keep deep focus, and guess what, Kensington Palace is still massive!  Steadicam does achieve a sort of sweeping kinetic energy and those shots were reminiscent of the masterful Russian Ark (2002) — a feature film shot at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, accomplished in one historically long shot. Russian Ark is impressive to say the absolute least. However, I don’t think it was necessarily the best technique to employ for The Favourite and it did seem to me that as the film moved on it was used less and less. However, this particular technique wasn’t the end of the world for me, I prefer bold choices in production. It’s just a choice I would have adjusted or used sparingly. Royal intrigue to me plays much better on a tripod or a dolly. Something more stable. But Queen Anne is so unstable! you might opine. —But is she? 

With the Steadicam following Abigail (Emma Stone) around, I half felt like I was in some type of time warp reflection of the Iñárritu masterpiece Birdman, where Stone plays Michael Keaton’s somewhat reckless but also caring daughter Sam, a recovering drug addict. Another masterful performance. There are few actresses who can hold an entire film together with so little as a fleeting glance, Emma Stone is one. In fact, Stone’s performance here is so strong that if she is not nominated for an Academy Award, I shall have to relive myself in the royal vomit bucket— there is apparently one in every room of the palace.

The Favourite moves right along, with many eyebrow raising twists and turns. And with Olivia Colman playing Queen Anne, the puppet master between Abigail and Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) most skillfully, nary a moment is lost in this tightly spun narrative.  

It may have slid in too late for our 2018 best of picks but The Favuorite would have been right in there with the top contenders. 

Battle of the Sexes

battle of the sexes

Battle of the Sexes is a political commentary wrapped in a history lesson holding at its core an entertaining and spellbinding narrative. I figured that Billy Jean King had defeated Bobby Riggs, or why make the movie but I really wasn’t absolutely sure about what happened. Their 1973 match and its buildup are as legendary as Cosell and Ali interviews. Emma Stone as BJK and Steve Carell as Riggs pull off the tennis stars’ volatile on-screen chemistry flawlessly.

The true nemesis in the film turns out not to be the marketing genius and buffoon Bobby Riggs, who by all accounts was a dedicated gambler above all. But rather Margaret Court, who as one of the greatest tennis players ever, was beaten in straight sets by Riggs before BJK stomped him. Court went on to be a Pentecostal Christian minister in her home country of Australia and staunch enemy of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.  The film has no qualms grinding that axe and would fit in easily as the Opening or Closing Night film at Outfest or Framline. Speaking of history lessons, Outfest and Framline are two of the premiere LGBT film festivals in the U.S. and have been around for 35 and 40 years respectively.

Battle of the Sexes itself is sensual and fun, well-crafted with great period touches like coin-op TVs in airport lounges and excellent wardrobe and costumes like BJK and Riggs’ glasses and fancy kicks.  The film is helmed deftly by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the team that delivered with the classic Little Miss Sunshine). They know how to handle tension and drama. They keep perfect continuity with the period without falling into sappy nostalgia.  The Directors also keep the various storylines with BJKs personal and professional life and Riggs’ own drama with his gambling addiction, problems with his wife — played expertly by the great Elisabeth Shue — and the pressure of his resurgent career as a self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig.  Every time Steve Carell appeared, I laughed out loud. I haven’t appreciated him as much since his brilliant performance in The 40 Year Old Virgin. I thought the casting was spot on except for Fred Armisen who really should be starring in his own films by now. As Riggs’ restrained pill-pushing dealer Fred is unable to unleash his true comic genius. Or perhaps the role would have been more in tune with someone more intense like John Goodman. However, a wonderful turn was made by the great Scottish-American Alan Cumming as Cuthbert ‘Ted’ Tinling, the flamboyant, big hearted and empathetic stylist to the women on the Virginia Slims tour.  One of the best lines is in the last act, right after her victory, Ted turns to BJK and says “Times change. You should know, because you changed them.”