Mythological Animals Are on Loving Display in the Vibrantly Animated ‘Cryptozoo’

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Cryptozoo (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: Lake Bell, Zoe Kazan, Michael Cera, Louisa Krause, Peter Stormare, Thomas Jay Ryan, Grace Zabriskie, Angeliki Papoulia

Director: Dash Shaw

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (It would probably be R for Animated Blood and Nudity)

Release Date: August 20, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen something as hypnotic as Cryptozoo. With its psychedelic animation and entrancing music, it sucks you right into its world of fantastical creatures and then keeps your attention fully in its grasp. “Cryptozoo” is a title that caught my fancy; perhaps it has now caught yours as well! Not that many movie titles have z’s in them. Maybe you look at “cryptozoo” and know exactly what it means right way, or maybe you’re a little confused, but intrigued. Or maybe it sounds too weird to you and you’ve already checked out. If I’ve still got your attention, here’s the deal: this is a world in which “cryptids” (i.e., mythological animals) live alongside humans and other non-cryptid animals. There are unicorns, gorgons, and even people with their faces on their torsos. As so often goes in these types of stories, their existence is continually threatened by the non-cryptid population that isn’t terribly keen on integration.

And so the story focuses on Lauren Grey (Lake Bell, in a role it feels like she was born to play), who is devoted to finding a safe place for cryptids in society. So she opens up a cryptozoo. (That title does not lie.) But is a zoo the best place for these creatures? Is it instead more of a “Cryptid Prison”? These are the conversations that Lauren has with other characters to make the thematic underpinnings unavoidably clear. Most cryptids just want to live their lives and get by without anybody bothering them. That’s Lauren’s goal as well, but she’s perhaps a little too trusting of the cryptozoo’s ability to achieve that mission. That can happen sometimes with idealists: distrust the current authority, place a little too much faith in the new institution. Eventually a series of scuffles break out, and the second half of this movie makes it abundantly clear that this realm is still quite a ways away from peace.

Cryptozoo is at its strongest when it allows us to just bask in the wonders of its deeply imaginative world. If the entire movie were just characters walking and talking and debating while various cryptids frolicked in the background, then I would be a happy customer. That is the vibe we get for the first half hour or so. It all kicks off with a prologue in which a horny couple has an unfortunate encounter with a unicorn, which isn’t literally the walking and talking that I’ve just described, but it does offer the same world-building energy. Then right after the prologue we do get plenty of those conversation sequences. But on the other hand, the battle scenes, while just as detailed in their animation, don’t quite have the same soul-enriching oomph. But on the whole, this is visionary animated cinema that is well worth checking out.

Cryptozoo is Recommended If You Like: Cool World, Heavy Metal, X-Men

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Cryptids

This Is a Movie Review: Gloria Bell

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CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/A24

The message of Gloria Bell seems to be that you’re never too old to be emotionally immature. The Julianne Moore-portrayed title character might be a divorced grandmother, but she is obviously still deserving of love, and writer-director Sebastián Lelio is clearly more than happy to give her the space to go dancing and spread her wings. And the age-appropriate guys in her orbit know that she is quite a catch. The one that she spends most of her time with, John Turturro’s Arnold, is good company, but he also cannot handle the fact that she had love before him and that it is still a part of her life. Whenever he enters into emotionally challenging territory, he whines and moans and hides. Gloria makes an effort to cut him out of her life when he gets to be way too extra, but she has a chronic case of just-can’t-quit-you-itis. In a way, this movie is about Gloria learning to say yes by saying no, and on that score, it earns the exhilaration of playing Laura Branigan over the end credits.

I give Gloria Bell A Few Eye Rolls, a Thumbs Up, and a Bunch of Hugs.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Molly’s Game’ Has Jessica Chastain Deliver What Must Be a Record-Setting Amount of Dialogue in Aaron Sorkin’s Directorial Debut

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

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Brian d’Arcy James, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, J.C. MacKenzie

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for the Vices That Surround Poker and a Brutal Assault Scene

Release Date: December 25, 2017 (Limited)

Effective poker strategy usually involves plenty of silence, so a poker film would seem to be an odd fit for the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, one of the most verbose screenwriters of all time. But don’t fold on him just yet, because Molly’s Game isn’t about the poker but rather the woman running the game. And a lot of talking has to be done behind the scenes to get to the point where you can stay silent behind the cards. And let’s just say Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) talks (and does) a lot to get to be the big kahuna running a high-stakes underground poker ring. From near-Olympic skier to lowly assistant to self-made millionaire, she lives quite the whirlwind. The tabloids call her the “poker princess,” but give a queenpin the respect she deserves and don’t saddle her with a patronizing nickname.

The players at Molly’s games consist of Hollywood hotshots and Wall Street bigwigs, and that high-profile money moving has the FBI thinking she might be involved with drug running and tax fudging. So she turns to smooth-talking but upright lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to represent her. He’s a bit pricey, though, and her assets are not exactly currently liquid, so she appeals to him on the basis of personal credit. Much of the film is a frame story of Molly filling Charlie in on the details of her life. Because they are reading dialogue written by Sorkin, Chastain and Elba have to deliver about four times as many words as they would in an average movie. Both are more than up to the task, Chastain especially, as she also has to deliver a ton of voiceover narration on top of her on-screen dialogue. It’s an electrifying story, but with nary a second of silence, plus frenetic editing on top of that, it is a bit exhausting, or at least it was for this viewer.

While Molly’s story will take you through the gauntlet, you can also vicariously thrill to the stories that her players bring to the table. Several of them basically have their own mini-movies going on (that Molly narrates, natch). You end up feeling that you know enough about their tells and pressure points that you could come in and win a few hundred grand against them even if you’re a complete novice. Especially memorable is Michael Cera with an effortlessly cool vibe unlike anything he’s ever given off before. He fully inhabits “Player X,” an anonymized version of an actual famous actor. (Some quick googling reveals he is essentially playing Tobey Maguire, or some amalgam of Maguire, Matt Damon, and maybe a few others.) It’s a career highlight for him and representative of the film’s emphasis on affirmatively filling out the clothes you wear in poker and in life.

Molly’s Game is Recommended If You Like: Poker movies, Poker competitions, Women Taking Control of Their Own Narrative

Grade: 3 out of 5 Spreadsheets