Estella (Emma Stone) became an orphan when her mother died ten years ago.
She makes her living in 1970s London as a pickpocket with her best friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). Her true passion is fashion, so she lands a job as a cleaner at Liberty, an upscale department store where she grabs the attention of world renowned fashion designer Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) who hires her as her assistant. Estella changes her name to Cruella when she starts her own line of fashion while competing with the Baroness.
Beginning with a prologue that explains the events that led up to the death of Estella's mother, Cruella takes its time before it flashes forward 10 years later. The reasons why those initial scenes are important become much more apparent later on as Estella learns harsh truths about her childhood that won't be spoiled here. For the most part, the screenplay by Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis, combines comedy, action, suspense and drama smoothly. The dialogue is even witty at times, and the characters are amusing even though they're not always likable, especially Estella who's an anti-hero and far from someone who's a good role model. What makes her and the Baroness so compelling as characters is that they're both stubborn, confident and not afraid to speak their mind, so when they clash with one another as Cruella develops her own style of fashion, it's a lot of fun.
Underneath the fun and comedy, though, there's a lot of darkness and tragedy which rises to the surface later on and adds complexity as well as psychological drama. The screenwriters clearly understand human nature and the way that narcissists like the Baroness use and abuse their victims while gaslighting them, and how deep down inside they're just an insecure, wounded child who has a lot of growing up and healing to do. At times, the dynamics between Estella and the Baroness feels similar to the power dynamics in The Favourite and The Devil Wears Prada, but there's nothing wrong with that---Tony McNamara, one of the screenwriters of Cruella, happens to also be one of the screenwriters of The Favourite. It's more important where a film takes its ideas to than where it takes its ideas from, after all, so it's fortunate that Cruella becomes increasingly deeper and darker which makes it all the more compelling on a human level.
The two Emmas both give lively and engaging performances, and it's enormously entertaining to watch them play off of each other. They're clearly having a lot of fun with their roles. The same can be said about John McCrea as Artie, a clothing store owner who befriends Estella/Cruella, who provides some campiness, and the underrated Mark Strong as the Baroness' butler. The main star of the film, though, is the fashion which looks very stylish and will surely nab some year-end awards for best costume design. Hair & make-up design also looks top-notch. It's also worth mentioning the soundtrack with some well-chosen songs that fit the 1970s time period. The brief use of CGI adds some style as well, so this is definitely the kind of film that has plenty of eye candy. At a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes, Cruella is wickedly funny, witty and full of pizzazz.
A Quiet Place Part II
After Lee Abbott (John Krasinki) dies, his son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who's deaf and wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), with her baby in tow, struggle to hide from aliens that hunt humans by detecting any sounds that they make. They find a dilapidated factory where Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a family friend, happens to be sheltering at. Despite being hesitant initially, Emmett lets them hide from the aliens with him, but soon Marcus gets injured from a booby-trap and Regan leaves the factory to head for safety on a island she believes exists.
The screenplay by writer/director John Krasinski on the first day of the alien invasion while Lee is still alive. That prelude serves as an effective way of reminding you of who the characters are, their relationships, the life-threatening conflict that they're forced to endure with the aliens, and how to evade the aliens by keeping quiet. It's also an intense opening that doesn't waste time in getting to the action that audiences expect before flashing forward to the time after Lee's death. Evelyn, Marcus and Regan barely have any time to mourn as they continue on their treacherous journey by foot. It's smart and inventive how Krasinski incorporates the song "Beyond the Sea" into the film as something that's much more than just a song.
To be fair, though, the plot becomes slightly unfocused when it diverges into three different journeys as Marcus stays behind in the factory after his injury to take care of the baby while Emmett and Regan leave to search for an island, and Evelyn separates from Marcus. The most thrilling of those journeys is that of Emmett and Regan's because it's more adventurous as the mystery of whether or not they'll find the island provides some suspense. They encounter the aliens, just as expected, and there are some frightening scenes that combine horror and action, although the horror isn't quite as terrifying this time around as it was in A Quiet Place because you get to see the aliens in all of their glory while leaving very little to the imagination.
Besides the horror, the real star of A Quiet Place Part II is Millicent Simmonds who anchors the film with her radiance and charisma while also handling some of the dark comedy quiet well. She's as memorable as Chloe Grace Moretz was in Kick-Ass and makes it easy to root for her character. She has at least one scene, which won't be spoiled here, that will make audiences applaud in unison, so that's part of why it's important to see this film on the big screen. The other reason is because of the sound design which is very detailed and becomes a character in itself. Keeping the running time down to just 97 minutes means that the film never becomes too exhausting or tedious. Most importantly, it makes you feel exhilarated while leaving you hungry for A Quiet Place Part III when the end credits roll.
Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog
In 1930s Berlin, 10-year-old, Joshua (August Maturo) and his mother, Shoshonna (Ayelet Zurer) and father, Samuel (Ádám Porogi), adopt a German Shepherd puppy they name Kaleb. Joshua and Kaleb become buddies, but soon Samuel has to let Kaleb go because Jews aren't allowed to own dogs during the Holocaust. A German husband, Frank (Miklós Kapácsy), and his wife, Greta (Lois Robbins), adopt him before Kaleb runs away home, gets captured, and gets a new owner, Ralph (Ken Duken), who's an SS officer at the same concentration camp that Joshua ends up at.
Based on the novel The Jewish Dog by Asher Kravitz, Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog has a premise that sounds like it could be equally gripping and poignant, but the screenplay by writer/director Lynn Roth doesn't allow the film to hit those notes. The audience doesn't have enough chances to get inside the head of any of its characters, especially Joshua, and the bond between him and Kaleb isn't very palpable. The same can be said about the relationship between Joshua and his loving family. Much like in the recent Holocaust family film When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, the horrors of the Holocaust remain largely off-screen which leaves it to the imagination of the audience. The story of Kaleb going from one dog owner to another until he meets Joshua again could've been much more powerful if the film had stopped to breathe some life into the characters for a change. Too many scenes feel either contrived, cloying, clunky or some combination of those.
To be fair, it's probably easier to get inside a character's head while reading a book much more so than by watching a movie. The lack of voice-over narration is a double-edged sword because, on the one hand, it doesn't spoon-feed the audience or pander to them, but, on the other hand, it's hard to get a sense of what Joshua or the dog is thinking or feeling, with the exception of one effective scene involving flashbacks. The cinematography and music score are decent, although they're not exceptional per se. Kudos to the filmmakers for not using a CGI dog like you'll find in Call of the Wild or for animating the film to make the war film more child-friendly like in Sgt. Stubby. By keeping it a live action with a real dog, it at least looks real and natural. If only the screenplay weren't so clunky, dull and by-the-numbers, Shepherd: A Dog's Tale could've been a much more powerful, memorable and engrossing film rather than just a sporadically poignant one.