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Non-Review Review: Cruella

Cruella arrives as the culmination of two interconnected trends.

Most obviously, Cruella is the latest in the long line of live action (or pseudo-live action) adaptations of classic Disney properties hoping to turn the studio’s animated back catalogue into a source of rich intellectual property that can be steadily mined for quick returns. Movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King all grossed over a billion dollars, so there is surely an audience hungry to see beloved childhood classics transferred into live action.

Ready for some hot takes?

Ironically enough, 101 Dalmatians was one of the first films to make that leap from pencil and inks to live action, with an adaptation (and a sequel) in the mid-nineties. Indeed, it’s arguable that Glenn Close’s incarnation of Cruella DeVil looms just large enough in the culture that a simple reboot of the premise might feel a little gauche. Jon Favreau could direct a second pseudo-live-action version of The Jungle Book for the company, but only because the earlier effort had no cultural footprint.

So Cruella is not content to be a straight-up reimagining of the classic Disney cartoon. Instead, the film draws from another contemporary trend when it comes to managing these intellectual properties: the villain-centric reboot. Cruella is arguably of a piece with recent pop culture like Ratchet, Maleficent or Joker, all works that reimagined a familiar intellectual property through the lens of its antagonist. There is evidently money in this concept, with Joker earning over a billion dollars and Maleficent earning half a billion and inspiring a sequel.

A crime of fashion.

So Cruella offers an origin story for the classic Disney villain, inviting the audience to get to know the monstrous fashion designer whose defining character trait was her desire to skin a lot of adorable puppies to make the perfect coat. It’s certainly an ambitious assignment. While Cruella is one of the most striking villains in the Disney canon, with one of the catchiest theme songs, she is hardly the most complex or nuanced. There’s hardly a lot of tragedy to be mined in a character so horrifically monstrous that “if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will.”

This sets up the central tension in Cruella, and the problem that the movie never quite manages to resolve. Cruella is a much stronger movie whenever it allows itself to drift away from the shadow of 101 Dalmations and become its own thing, but it suffers greatly when it finds itself drawn back into the gravity of the original Disney classic. Cruella works reasonably well as a seventies-set fashion heist movie, but struggles when it tries to be a compelling villain origin story for a character who really never needed one.

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – From First to Last (Tyger, The Cell, The End) Review

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

It’s interesting. Collecting three one-shots from writer Garth Ennis involving the Punisher, this collection manages to skilfully capture everything I love and loathe about the Northern Irish writer’s take on the Marvel character. The three stories collected here – The Tyger, The Cell, The End – run the full range from the early years of Frank’s life, to his early career as the Punisher, through to the end of humanity itself. That’s a pretty huge scope for a writer, and it’s telling that Ennis can cover all that range in so few pages, so smoothly. There’s a lot of good clever stuff here, but there’s also the insanely juvenile stuff that so often seems to knock me out of Ennis’ Punisher just when it looks like I might start enjoying it.

To the ends of the Earth...

Note: This review is going to contain spoilers. In each case, it’s probably best you know as little as possible about these three stories heading into them. So, if I had to offer a quick recommendation, I’d suggest that they are essential for fans of Ennis’ take on the character, and capture and expand on his core ideas well. However, if you aren’t familiar with the character, there are better places to start (ironic, given two of these three are origins, after a fashion). If you can’t stand the Punisher… well, this won’t convince you.

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Holding Out For an Anti-Hero: The Rise of the Morally Ambiguous Protagonist…

Sure, comedies have a long history of featuring genuinely unlikable characters as leads, but I think the last number of years have seen an explosion in the number of morally ambiguous (and sometimes downright villainous) protagonists, both on the big and small screens. Of course, the entire film noir movement was based upon the idea of a compromised hero, in recent times we’ve found ourselves increasingly cheering for the bad guy.

A serial charmer...

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Ever Ben Lost?

I have mixed feelings about the Emmy awards. On one hand Bryan Cranston is awesome, but on the other Hugh Laurie is due a statue, albeit probably not for this lacklustre year. On one hand 24 deserved recognition, but on the other Anne Wersching was the best actress on the show – certainly not Cherry Jones. it was awesome to see Brendan Gleeson get some over due love. And there is one decision I’m glad that the Academy made. Michael Emerson deserved an award for his role of everyone’s favourite sociopath.

Ben, the two of us need look no more… We both found what we were looking for.

Where have you, Ben?

Where have you, Ben?

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