“Cruella”–DeVil’s Delight?

Set in London in the 1970s, Cruella focuses on the backstory of the woman who becomes Cruella DeVil, the villain in the beloved children’s story, 101 Dalmatians.  This Disney film is the origin story of Cruella DeVil.   Beautifully costumed, creatively re-interpreting characters from the much-loved two previous 101 Dalmatians films, we are treated to a prequel like none this reviewer ever expected.

Estella Miller (the outstanding Emma Stone), is an aspiring fashion designer, orphaned and relegated to being a street grifter with two boys in a Dickensian survival-of-the-smartest.  As she is determined to pull no punches to achieve her dream, Estella will become Cruella by the end of the film.

Treated very poorly by the unparalleled fashion designer, Baroness von Hellman (played brilliantly by Emma Thompson), Estella/Cruella plots to gain recognition from the Baroness and then to take over her empire.  The dueling competition over who is the greatest fashionista of all is immensely entertaining. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the darker tones of two women who have lost family and now feel so unloved, delve deep into nuances of character that are very adult psychological themes. 

Baroness, as a child, was humiliated in dreaming of a world of  fashion.  Now she does the same to Estella. The two are mirror-images of each other, but Estella has yet to realize that.  This is the emotional centerpiece of the film.

Part Ocean’s Eleven for the heist during the Baroness’s fashion gala, and part Joker for the torment and trauma that morphs Estella into Cruella, this is not your typical Disney movie.  There is something for everyone. The young viewer will enjoy the breathtaking staging.  Sumptuous costumes and Joker-like makeup are performances in their own right.  For adults,  we see vulnerability in both characters being crushed.  What an origin story!

Without a doubt Cruella is the very best of the Disney live-action dramas, not merely an engaging snow globe of entertainment, and it will likely become a classic. Cruella is definitely a DeVil’s Delight!

Note:  Some children under the age of ten may not be comfortable with the intensity of certain scenes and unexpected behavior.  They might end up watching a few action scenes through their fingers.  My two granddaughters, ages six and eight, who watched this movie with me for the second time, loved it!  So did I –but for some very different reasons, I’m sure. 

Availability: Disney+

Late Night–Women Do It Right

Late Night movie

In Late Night   we see a notoriously, male-dominated world of late-night network TV in which a woman–Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson)– is the host of her own talk show.  (Think “The Devil Wears Prada” and Meryl Streep as the “bitch-boss from hell”).  The world of late-night television is even more turned upside down when Katherine hires her first and only female staff writer, Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) to tamp down criticism of the show’s lack of diversity– a “two-fer”: a woman and a person of color.  It’s brazen “tokenism”.

The show’s ratings have steadily declined as social media and viral videos take over the discussion of current affairs and trends. As a multiple award-winning nighttime late-show legend, Katherine will have nothing to do with social media. The network’s president warns her that she will be replaced soon if nothing changes.

The network frets that  Katherine’s  too much of a relic representative of a vanishing demographic, and that her thirty-years of experience means little to the millennial generation. She’s a hard-nosed veteran performer.  She ignores the accusations of being out-of-touch and a dinosaur. Katherine’s writing staff, all men–some of whom have never met her–slack off when they can, and write jokes that are partly the reason for her show’s growing unpopularity. 

Enter Molly who has little experience in comedy (she worked in a chemical manufacturing plant) and initially struggles. Nevertheless she proves she is talented and knows what a younger audience wants to see. Katherine and Molly are from different generations and different perspectives of what comedy is and should be.   

The antagonist and adamant opponent to all of Molly’s comedic efforts is Tom (Reid Scott), who is in charge of writing the opening monologues for the late show and feels far superior to Molly’s status as a “diversity hire”.  Ironically he is a “legacy hire” himself.  It’s such an old boy’s club that the women’s restroom isn’t truly the women’s restroom, but where guys go to take a dump.

A laugh-out-loud comedy with subversive social commentary woven into it, sometimes Late Night   is so subtle the viewer might miss some of the scathingly tongue-in-cheek banter. Kaling gives this script her all as the creator and chief writer, critiquing how television  works. She  also – examines what makes a joke funny, the subtleties of comedy, and why something goes viral.   This satirical comedy is timely and a must-see!

Years and Years–Our Future?

The HBO six-part series, Years and Years,  is a  dystopian drama of the near future that rivals “The Handmaid’s Tale” but with a focus on technology and financial crisis. 

In Years and Years the viewer witnesses a 15-year projection of nuclear strikes, technology that allows sulky teens to project Snapchat-style filters over their faces, and concentration camps for refugees and dissidents in Great Britain. 

The  harrowing image of Vivienne Rook MP (Emma Thompson), as an outspoken celebrity business woman turned political figure à la Trump, divides the nation with  her controversial opinions and policies.  In tandem, a second parallel story of one family– the Lyons family–details the impact of an unstable world on their lives.

Beginning in 2020,  three generations of the Lyons family watch the rapid change occurring around them due, in part, to the radical demagoguery of Vivienne Rook who eventually rises to power in 2027.  With a mix of horror, confusion, and occasional glee individual members align with Rook or resist her autocracy.

In rapid-fire time-jumps from 2020 to  2035, Years and Years  has Trump winning a second term as US president, Pence succeeding him and Rook seizing  power and proclaiming policies in similar autocratic style in England.

In 2020 air raid sirens blast over all regions of the UK,  with news that Trump has fired a nuclear missile at a Chinese island.  Panic and misinformation spiral out of control.

In a series of unfortunate events, there is a financial  crisis due to the collapse of an American investment bank.  A compulsory national IQ test is administered to exclude low-IQ individuals  from voting.  Arrests and detention become the rule of law for refugees, homosexuals, and dissidents.

By 2027  the coalition government of Great Britain has collapsed, and Viv Rook becomes the Prime Minister, backed by unidentified corporate moguls. Countries become unstable with similar governments being put into place.   

By  2028, Viv Rook promises freedom to her supporters but begins arresting her opponents, contracting with a giant corporation to maintain two “Erstwhile” concentration camps, intended as death camps with fascist oversight. 

By 2029 attacks on journalists increase, and the BBC is forced to shut down, having had its charter withdrawn. Muriel Lyons, matriarch and grandmother, blames the family and global citizens at large for the rampant dictatorships worldwide.  In one of  the most powerful monologues (see video clip) in television this year, she eloquently tells her family that many small acts of indifference have had a snowball effect,  creating the toxic environment everyone now lives in. Today perhaps?  And so it now seems that there is little control the Lyons have over their destinies.  The military isn’t storming parliament. The change is more insidious. Dictatorship creeps up on us very, very slowly, and yet with increasing speed, suddenly we are rendered powerless while ordinary life goes on.

Years and Years, through its flashbacks, forecasts the next decade-and-a-half  with a pessimistic, quasi-nihilistic lens.  A sum of the problems and anxieties currently playing out in Trump-land, this dystopia is a world-weary projection,  resonant of a   prequel to Black Mirror’s astringent tales.

Note:  The sixth and last episode took me by surprise.   The tone seemed off, shifting  gears into much more futuristic  science fiction. We’re being given fake videos with fake news, but this seemed to me like a  fake ending.