Memorial Day Weekend 2021 at the Movies Report: Nobody Puts ‘Cruella’ in ‘A Quiet Place Part II’

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(CREDIT: Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures; Disney/YouTube Screenshot)

A Quiet Place Part II:

Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski

Director: John Krasinski

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: May 28, 2021 (Theaters)

Cruella:

Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Kayvan Novak, Tipper Seifert-Cleveland

Director: Craig Gillespie

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: May 28, 2021 (Theaters and Disney+ Premier Access)

A Quiet Place Part II is pretty much more of the same. It’s not exactly the same, as we do get a flashback to right before the aliens arrive, and the Abbott family makes their way to a couple of new locations. But the vibe is very much a continuation, and the feelings it produced in me are pretty much exactly the same as they were the first go-round. Ergo, I will be giving it the exact same grade as I gave the first one.

Meanwhile, Cruella gave me pretty dang different reactions to every previous version of Ms. de Vil. A mashup of 101 Dalmatians, The Devil Wears Prada, and the Flight of the Conchords song “Fashion is Danger,” this is a triumph of getting down with your own bad self. Emma Stone … has got It. Emma Thompson … has got It. Costume designer Jenny Beavan … has outdone herself. That classic rock soundtrack is perhaps a little too dang relentless, though. But that’s the energy of the Cruella vs. Baroness Fashion War! It demands your attention, and more often than not, it earns it.

GRADES:
A Quiet Place Part II: 3.5 out of 5 Shushes (3 Years Old Version)
Cruella: 40 Quick-Changes out of 50 Dresses

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is at Its Best When It Fully Embraces Its Possible Irrelevance

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CREDIT: Sony/Columbia Pictures

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Fluids That Spew Out in the Zombie Apocalypse

Release Date: October 18, 2019

There’s a running gag throughout Zombieland: Double Tap in which Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) attempts to secure the title of “Zombie Kill of the Year.” He can never seem to quite pull it off, as his companion Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is on hand to helpfully inform us of some other recent dispatch of the undead that was just a little more impressive. This begs the question, in a post-apocalyptic world in which all mass communication has been decimated, how is word about these kills spreading so quickly and seamlessly? By Columbus providing this info via voiceover narration, there is an implication, perhaps unintentional, that he is somehow omniscient. Or maybe the conceit is that he is telling us this story years later, although that does not appear to be the case, what with the sense of immediacy to his dictation.

This is not the most worrisome concern to have, but it does stand in contrast to the original Zombieland, in which everything clicked into place just so, both comedically and logically. Double Tap has several elements like this that feel important but ultimately aren’t terribly so. The jokes are given greater emphasis, but even more essential is an investigation into a nagging sense of malaise. How do you go on living in a world overrun by zombies when killing zombies has become second nature? In addressing this question, the ten years that have passed since the first Zombieland are actually an advantage.

While people do die and new zombies are turned in this world, we are never worried that the makeshift family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) will fall victim to the carnage. And they seem to know it. They’re living it up in the White House, treating every day like it’s Christmas, but that sense of security is only engendering mid-life, or quarter-life, crises. Columbus and Wichita especially are struggling with the realization that they have already accomplished all they need to in life by their thirties. I wish that the script had dug into these neuroses a little more deeply, but this movie works as well as it does because this malaise is the foundational conflict.

Now, to fully enjoy Double Tap, you’ll have to have a pretty big appetite for the same self-aware self-deprecating jokes being told over and over and a full embrace of certain stereotypes that have already been thoroughly deconstructed. But there’s a lot more melancholy than you might expect from a past-it-sell-by-date carnage-filled zom-com. If that’s not quite a Zombie Endorsement of the Year, it’s at least enough to assure us that our undead imaginations haven’t been fully depleted yet.

Zombieland: Double Tap is Recommended If You Like: Staring into the void, while repeating your favorite jokes over and over again

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rules

SNL Love It/Keep It/Leave It: Emma Stone/BTS

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CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

The Actress – When you’re an actor, I imagine you take your rewarding parts wherever you can find them. So as mundane and ridiculous as this sketch is, it strikes me as ringing 100% true. Not in the sense that Emma Stone actually has experience playing a non-sexual role in a porn video, but in the sense that she, and so many others, have surely had bizarre moments of character discovery, or have at least been fighting for them. That feeling of vulnerability is powerful, and I’m glad we got to witness it.

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This Is a Movie Review: Loopy Royal Period Piece ‘The Favourite’ is a Career Highlight for Its Three Lead Actresses

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CREDIT: Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for A Very Sexual Royal England

Release Date: November 23, 2018

The hype for The Favourite indicates that it is not your typical period royal court drama, which is to be expected, given that it is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek auteur behind such clinically chilling visions as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. And while The Favourite is certainly an oddity within the genre, that does not mean it is totally anachronistic. Lanthimos’ version is probably not an exact reflection of how the people within the orbit of the British Queen Anne spoke and behaved some 300+ years ago, but it does not seem impossible that they could have acted that way. People use certain four-letter words that are seldom heard from movie characters with the poofiest wigs and dresses, but these are words that have been around for centuries and surely some people were using them back then. Besides, The Favourite is not especially concerned with historical accuracy; the story behind it all is just inspiration for Lanthimos to craft his own devilishly compelling tale.

The most reasonable way to think of The Favourite is as a showcase for its three lead actresses (who get a little bit of help along the way from a few dudes), who have rarely, if ever, been better. Olivia Colman is Anne, hobbled by gout and occasional indecisiveness, perhaps more than a little manipulative in how she courts favor, but breathtakingly formidable once she has made up her mind. Rachel Weisz is Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, close advisor (and much more) to the queen. She prides herself on being ten strategic steps ahead of everyone else, which is her greatest strength, even when it appears to be her downfall. Her wits allow her to get out of any sticky situation, up to and including kidnapping by a brothel. And Emma Stone is Abigail, Rachel’s cousin and new arrival to the court. She initially appears to be so unfailingly kind that it makes her a little stupid, but ultimately it is clear that she is a full-fledged ingratiator. Stone has never before immersed herself in such a dark persona. If Lanthimos has done his job right, and I think he has, your loyalties will constantly switch along with the characters to the point that you just want to applaud everyone.

The Favourite is Recommended If You Like: Amadeus, All About Eve, Persona

Grade: 4 out of 5 Powdered Wigs

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is More Than Just a Tennis Match

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CREDIT: Melinda Sue Gordon/20th Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Alan Cumming, Natalie Morales

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Systemic Sexism and An Eye-Opening Affair

Release Date: September 22, 2017 (Limited)

The mark of a great biopic is how it transcends its time. It not only illuminates the period it is set in but also the era in which it is released and potentially remains relevant into the future. Battle of the Sexes, a dramatization of the same-named 1973 exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and the events leading up to it, is filled with social issues that are still urgently pressing in 2017. When you consider the full scope of human history, the fact that a fight to be taken seriously has lasted at least 44 years ultimately does not seem that unprecedented. But it is frustrating regardless, and it is also galvanizing enough to make a crowd-pleasing narrative out of.

As King, Emma Stone must embody a straightforward, but recognizably human, conflict. She struts around with the indomitable spirit of conviction when fighting for women to be treated equally with the men in her sport, but her personal life is searching for the right identity. She instinctively understands that the real roadblock in her professional fight is not her clownish opponent, but rather, folks like ATP Executive Director Jack Kemp (Bill Pullman), who casually reinforces the status quo with subtly aggressive comments like, “the thing about women is they find it hard to consistently handle the pressure.” But of course King can handle the pressure of tennis’ old guard. What she cannot quite handle, at least not yet as a young adult, is her path towards coming to terms with her own sexuality. The presence in this film of a tantalizing but unsettling affair with another woman is crucial, demonstrating that the political is always personal.

As Riggs, Steve Carell reveals that the trolls of today (who couch their racism and sexism with the “I’m just kidding!” defense) come from a long line of deliberate offenders. He is happy to play the male chauvinist pig, but mainly for the purpose of getting eyeballs on his stunts (though he does play the part quite convincingly). But what drives this long-since retired former world number one is not a desire to reinforce the status quo but an inability to give up the hustle. You could roll your eyes at him all you want, but it is hard not to root for him a little bit, because you can actually see how he might be able to be a better human being.

As a compelling story, Battle of the Sexes is undeniably winning. As cinema, it mostly coasts by on that strength but does not add any particularly unique techniques to the inspirational sports genre. The acting is top-notch, the understanding of the subject matter is astute, the pacing is solid, and the attitude is appropriately calibrated. It is not hitting aces with every scene, but its service game is never broken.

Battle of the Sexes is Recommended If You Like: Bend it Like Beckham, Legally Blonde, Cool Runnings, Scheduling your year around the Grand Slam calendar

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Serve and Volleys

This Is a Movie Review: La La Land

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LLL d 29 _5194.NEF

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Doing Once That Thing You Can Get Away With in a PG-13 Movie If You Only Do It Once

Release Date: December 9, 2016 (Limited)

Is it the sign of a successful musical if it leaves you humming one of its tunes as you walk out of the theater? It certainly helps if it has a head start by featuring a certain set of notes so prominently in its trailer and if that phrase is meant to be whistled so steady and easy. But to directly answer the question: yes, a musical is successful if it leaves you humming. All the other trappings – story, acting, set design, pretty colors, whatever – may have their purpose, but who cares, if that one defining feature does not do its job? So what’s the verdict on La La Land? It’s a wistful, eternally romantic tingle that has imprinted on me, perhaps forever.

This may very well be that same old story of showbiz doing showbiz: struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) toils at auditions and coffee shops, sparks fly when she meets jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) – the type who is so single-mindedly focused on keeping the old school alive, and the feelings may are powerful enough to literally lift them into the air. This is not tiresome, because there are still, and probably always will be, so many Mia’s and Seb’s making their way in the real La La Land. The film is deeply inspired by tradition, but it is not beholden to it. It is wide-eyed enough for the romance to be worth investing in, but it is clear-eyed enough to know that practicality, honesty, and confidence are essential for making those romantic dreams come true.

For most of its running time, La La Land is perfectly diverting, but not much more. But then it becomes revolutionary at the end when it redefines its entire story, and what is possible in this style of storytelling. I would not dare to spoil this turn, as its impact hit me a great deal via its surprise. But let me just say that it has to do with its organization of the four seasons as chapters. Winter and henceforth are not pointed out for the sake of a convenient format, but to set you up for a treat that only cinema can inflict.

La La Land is Recommended If You Like: Any Musical, as a Rule

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Leg Raises

SNL Review December 3, 2016: Emma Stone/Shawn Mendes

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Emma Stone" Episode 1712 -- Pictured: (l-r) Beck Bennett, Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon, Emma Stone, Kyle Mooney, and Aidy Bryant during the "High School Theater Show" sketch on December 3, 2016 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Emma Stone” Episode 1712 — Pictured: (l-r) Beck Bennett, Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon, Emma Stone, Kyle Mooney, and Aidy Bryant during the “High School Theater Show” sketch on December 3, 2016 — (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2016.

Love It

Woodbridge High School Student Theater Showcase – I love the maddeningly self-righteous Woodbridge crew, but with each new edition, I fear their appearances have run their course. But then I remember what is going on in the world, and I realize how much we need them. Where else are we going to get a joke about a modern Holocaust that is so nonchalant and so cutting? Or a Black Lives Matter joke that is so loopy? And you know this is the only we can hear Aidy Bryant say, “Yep. You guessed it. I have AIDS.”

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SNL Recap November 12, 2011: Emma Stone/Coldplay

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Cold Opening – GOP Debate
If there was any one moment SNL could get plenty of mileage out of in a GOP debate sketch, it was Rick Perry’s brain fart.  It initially felt odd, though, that this gag was dragged out as long as it was, but, paradoxically, it also felt like it could have gone on indefinitely, so this sketch simultaneously felt too long and too short. B-

Emma Stone’s Monologue
Emma Stone was the love interest to Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland,  Emma will be the love interest to Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg played friends in The Social Network in which Jesse Eisenberg played Mark Zuckerberg, who has been portrayed by Andy Samberg on SNL.
Andy’s conflating Andrew Garfield with Garfield was amusing, and expected. B

Secret Word
I can’t say I shared Lyle Round’s attraction: Emma played just about the scariest Miss America I have ever seen.  And that served the “ventriloquism” moment quite well. B

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SNL Recap October 23, 2010: Emma Stone/Kings of Leon

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Cold Opening – Harry Reid for Senate Press Conference
The impressions are decent enough, so how about somebody comes up with some actual jokes for these guys? C

Emma Stone’s Monologue
Kenan, Bill, and Andy all had a good thing going with their nerd characters, but they were cut off prematurely, so there was no momentum. Andy’s violent shaking while trying to read his prepared statement was a high point. Meanwhile, Bobby’s Jonah Hill was a physical marvel, and Taran’s Michael Cera was freakishly spot-on. B

Babyspanx
Ultimately distressing. At there was Bill was his ever-reliable spokesman character. C+

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