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

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: John Krasinski/Machine Gun Kelly

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SNL: Machine Gun Kelly, John Krasinski, Heidi Gardner (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

It’s the end of January, and Saturday Night Live has finally aired its first new episode of 2021. I’ll let you numerologists determine what significance those digits have as far as SNL is concerned…

Host John Krasinski and musical guest Machine Gun Kelly are both making their Studio 8H debuts (as will be all the recently announced guests for the coming weeks). Krasinski was actually supposed to host back in March 2020, but that is now neither here nor there.

Here’s where my head was at while watching this episode: most days, I wake up and write my dreams from the night before down in a dream journal, but I didn’t remember them this morning, so I didn’t have to arrange my dream scribbling around my SNL viewing as I normally do. But then later while I was running, a dream came back to me, so I had to pivot a bit. But it was a pretty easy pivot.

Vaccines are being rolled out, but the pandemic is still ongoing, so my reviews will continue to be spaced out.

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This Is a Movie Review: ‘A Quiet Place’ Reveals That John Krasinski is a Master of Relentless Horror

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CREDIT: Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures

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

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Director: John Krasinski

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Nightmare-Inducing Creature Design and Quickly Edited Disemboweling

Release Date: April 6, 2018

Effective horror movies are often built around a simple hook, and A Quiet Place has a doozy: a family must remain ever silent because they are being terrorized by something that strikes whenever it hears the merest peep. It is such a doozy, in fact, that a very similar setup was employed just a couple of years ago in Don’t Breathe (wherein a crew of burglars had to escape the detection of a blind man). Do we have a boomlet of the “silence is golden” horror subgenre on our hands? The results thus far are encouraging. There is plenty of variation possible in turning away from modern cinema’s default reliance on dialogue, with A Quiet Place exploring the effect it has on nuclear family dynamics.

It has been about a year since these sound-seekers have begun their attacks, and life on Earth has adjusted accordingly. It is unclear how much of the world’s population has been decimated, but even if it is a relatively small percentage, it might as well be just about everybody, as survival requires solitude. This particular family has lucked out in a way, as they have a deaf daughter (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and are accordingly all fluent in sign language. It is another simple but effective flip: turning a disability into a strategic advantage.

John Krasinski, directing and playing the father, trains us to become fully absorbed in every frame, thus allowing A Quiet Place to pull off killer set piece after killer set piece. From 30 minutes in all the way to the conclusion, this is a non-stop nailbiter. Father and son (Noah Jupe) head off to gather up some food, while daughter revisits a scene of tragedy, leaving pregnant mom (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real life wife) home alone to deliver the most silent natural birth ever. There is a lot of resourcefulness on display in keeping the attackers at bay. It is almost a sort of Home Alone-style boobytrapping ingenuity, but the kind that minimizes pratfalls and nut shots.

While A Quiet Place consistently pulls off the visceral thrills, it is not quite as satisfying when it attempts to examine the why and the how. That is not because the answers it offers are unsatisfying per se, but rather because they end up working out a little too perfectly. These creatures are the type that are mostly indestructible but have that one little weakness. In many ways, A Quiet Place resembles Signs, particularly the method for defeating the creatures. It is not quite as ridiculous Shyamalan’s “you gotta have faith” randomness. A Quiet Place’s resolution that is fairly set up and is actually reasonably clever. But it leaves me weirdly disappointed that the terror has been deflated seemingly so thoroughly. I am left in a paradoxical state, as it gives me the rousing resolution I wanted while depriving me of a continued pounding heartbeat as I walk out the theater. Perhaps if the ending had swerved into a Mars Attacks!-style comedic turnaround (with which it shares some DNA), I would have forgiven the excess perfectness. But I can settle for the steady relentlessness that the majority of A Quiet Place delivers.

A Quiet Place is Recommended If You Like: Don’t Breathe, Alien, Signs

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Shushes

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Detroit’ is a Nauseatingly Intense Portrait of Abuse of Power

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Annapurna Pictures

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

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Jacob Latimore, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, John Krasinski

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Running Time: 143 Minutes

Rating: R for a Real-Life Waking Nightmare

Release Date: July 28, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide August 4, 2017

To sum up my feelings on Detroit, I feel compelled to borrow from Trevor Noah’s take on the footage of the Philando Castile shooting: I can’t really recommend that anyone watch it, even though I think everyone needs to see it. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s dramatization of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident is often sickening and rarely allows for any catharsis, even in its slower moments. Even the epilogue title cards, which typically let some light shine through and or at least offer some hope, are just as depressing. The ending left me on edge, about to break down and cry. The point of Detroit is not depression porn, or value posturing, but capturing a moment of a social ill that is not just a moment but a lingering epidemic. Its message needs to be heard, and it is presented in a manner in which it cannot be ignored.

Going into Detroit, I knew little about the specifics of this incident beyond its racial overtones. But soon enough the truth became depressingly obvious. As the film descends into the pit of its most harrowing moments, it becomes clearer and clearer what sort of terrible ending it is headed towards. We have seen this absence of redemption and justice again and again. The smallest of comforts can be drawn from the fact that this is not a new tragedy, but that only leads to the realization that we may be suffering through a never-ending cycle of violence.

Some of the details of the real-life July 1967 event remain in dispute, and the film makes sure to acknowledge that. What is clear, though, is that three black men died that night and that nine other motel residents – seven more black men and two white women – were badly beaten. Without the ubiquitous recording technology of today, it is impossible to know exactly what happened, but it is not hard to accept Detroit’s version of events.

The narrative unfolds in three portions. The opening is a survey of the racial tension of the country in general and Detroit specifically, with an animated prologue explaining how the end of Civil War and its resulting migratory patterns led to this crisis. The conclusion is a pointedly abrupt courtroom drama. But the significant majority is the middle, which reenacts the night at a seemingly real-time pace. It plays like a horror film, with the Detroit police as the home invaders. The Michigan State Police and National Guard offer some chances to escape the terror, but only in a way that protects themselves and provides no long-term relief.

Detroit features a notably large cast for such a painfully intimate setting, and each individual is given their moment to illustrate the major themes. As a security guard attempting to aid both the police and the victims, John Boyega is the personification of internal conflict. As a brazenly, sadistically racist officer, Will Poulter makes it difficult to hold on to the belief that no person is intrinsically evil. A certain well-known actor shows up late and plays strikingly against type as the officers’ lawyer. And Algee Smith has a star turn as one of the victims. He plays Cleveland Larry Reed, a singer attempting to break through with up-and-coming R&B group The Dramatics. You can see his soul withering away at every turn, but just enough brightness shines through on his face to suggest that maybe, just maybe, a happy future could be in store.

Detroit is Recommended If You Like: Fruitvale Station, Home Invasion Horror, Getting Righteously Angry

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Death “Games”

This Is a Movie Review: Born in China

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Narrator: John Krasinski

Director: Lu Chuan

Running Time: 76 Minutes

Rating: G

Release Date: April 21, 2017

Born in China is the tenth Disneynature documentary (counting both theatrical and non-theatrical releases) but the first that I have seen in its entirety. Normally I do not highlight my moviegoing blind spots, not just because I do not want to appear like a novice but also because it is a generally uninteresting caveat. But in this case I bring it up to make a point.

As far as I can tell, Born in China is basically the same movie stylistically or thematically as Earth, African Cats, Monkey Kingdom, or your average Animal Planet doc. There is the environmentalist ethos, lovingly shot open vistas, and narration that is not shy about anthropomorphizing (this time courtesy of John Krasinski). This is akin to seeing a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch in its hundredth iteration but for the first time for the viewer. As an SNL devotee, I often wonder how casual fans’ experiences differ from my own. A recurring bit that is basically an exact recreation of the original rendition is inevitably a letdown, but someone who has not seen the original does not experience the frustration of repetition. But could there in fact be something lost for viewers both new and old when the novelty has departed? My experience with Disnyenature suggests there could.

While Born in China is hardly a revelation, it does have its charms. If you have the capacity to giggle over a panda falling down a hill (which I do somewhat), then you should have a smile on your face for a good portion of the running time. And if you like the idea of Jim Halpert making up cutesy dialogue for his furry and feathered subjects, then this is for you. This occasionally gives me chuckles, but it can quickly grow tiresome. While the problem with the cheeriness is that it feels all too manufactured, I am not asking for darkness, just a stronger point of view.

Born in China is Recommended If You Like: Spending All Day Watching Animal Planet

Grade: 2 out of 5 Lost Boys