Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Last Night in Soho (2021) Directed: Edgar Wright  Rated: Runtime: 1h 56m  Studio: Focus Features  Screenwriter: Edgar Wright, Krystal Wilson-Cairns  Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Thomasin McKenzie, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao

The 60s are alive once more through the fashion trends and set designs quintessential to the decade in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. A dark, captivating story with suspenseful twists and a great cast. Its plot makes this time-traveling thriller an underdog movie amongst similar billings. 

Eloise (McKenzie) is a sheltered country bumpkin who travels the same path her dead mother once did; to be a fashion designer. Raised and encouraged by her grandmother Eloise seems detached from the modern, everyday world. Yet to make it as a fashion anything in England, London is the place to go. So, Eloise leaves home to attend the London College of Fashion. Eloise struggles in the dorms, becoming so downtrodden by the disillusionment of reality she leaves the dorm to rent a room off-campus. The writer’s choice here is to move the story along, but it strips Eloise’s character of the ability to grow as a person. This film’s dark unlying theme is a women’s lack of choices or autonomy. 

Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie in ‘Last Night in Soho’ Image: Focus Features/Parisa Taghizadeh via hollywoodreporter.com

Once settled in her new space, she discovers something, like a portal to Narnia or Wonderland. Eloise is enveloped and inspired by the 1960s vivid glamour. The mysterious singer, Sandy (Taylor-Joy), and her manager, Jack (Smith) in her dreams until it turns foul. Are they dreams, memories, or time travel? Why does she stay when most people would run away screaming? Wright goes back and forth; he isn’t entirely clear. Nor is it clear if Eloise is an observer or participant in what she sees. It’s never explored and can seem like a plothole that should have been addressed upon first viewing. However, Wright likes to blur certain aspects, so maybe there isn’t one correct answer. This film is psychological.

The movement between Sandy’s actions and Eloise’s observations is (cinematically) well shot and edited. This facilitates in blurring reality and the dreamscape of past events. The lighting and music also cement the tone and pace of a given scene and the film overall. Edgar Wright makes it easy to watch but, in reality, involves a lot of forethought, takes, and editing. I applaud any movie with a detailed, rich plotline that doesn’t cause hiccups or continuity errors. Last Night in Soho is packed with details and aspects that make the characters’ lives plausible. None more so than Sandy.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith in ‘Last Night in Soho’ Image: Focus Features via theguardian.com

Anya Taylor-Joy has had a busy last couple of years with a wide variety of roles to her credit. This movie is another notch off of genes she can pull off. While Eloise is the vehicle that gets us to Sandy, Sandy’s character is the star of this film. Her journey connects to everything in this movie—the twists and emotional resonance fuel the narrative. 

Last Night in Soho isn’t a horror film. It’s psychological, thrilling suspense with layers. I appreciate a screenplay that’s written and cast well and was not disappointed. Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Diana Rigg are all wonderful in their respective roles in this film. Each brings professionalism and gravitas to their character’s places within this movie. A perfectly cast, well-directed story of ambitions, the spotlight, and the nightlife of Soho in the 60s makes Last Night in Soho worth a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Cruella (2021)

Cruella (2021)

Directed by: Craig Gillespie   Runtime: 2 hr 14 min   Rated: PG-13

Studio: Disney   Screenwriters: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna

Based on: Novel One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong

Once upon a time, there was a land where the first Walt-Disney movies were created. Where women fell in love at first sight or continually needed rescuing by a man. Where magic was mostly evil, and villains were bad, no reason why. 

Eventually, after many, many, many years, the rulers of this land changed and remodeled the great castle of the land. This land came to be known simply as Disney. Women were no longer plot devices forced into marriages, kidnapped, poisoned, or cursed. A place where all magic isn’t evil and women are empowered. Classic stories are reimagined here, and so are the villains. Now, they, too, have backstories, depth. 

Disney’s Cruella Official Trailer via YouTube

Disney’s latest reinvention is the villain from the 1961 cartoon movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella DeVil. Initially, she was an animated, chain-smoking, anorexic, verbally abusive, fur-wearing, puppy stealing, murderous maniac. Yes, the original cartoon was a children’s movie. There was a live-action film of the same name in the mid-90s… absolutely worth avoiding. 

So, how do you redeem such a vile creation? You split her traits into two people and go from there. 

Cruella isn’t about chasing down dogs, far from it. Though a handful is in the film, that part of the original has been stripped away. This retelling is sassy, edgy, and a tad dark. It was made with more mature audiences in mind. 

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson in Disney’s ‘Cruella’ Image Credit: Disney

Emma Stone plays the iconic, titular role of Cruella. The audience is introduced to her as a child, briefly. That peek into her past sets up her motivations and the overall tone of the film to come. Cruella is a nickname; her real name is Estella. Estella tries to stuff a part of herself (Cruella) away into a metaphorical box. It’s evident from the film’s title that it doesn’t work out. It’s why that doesn’t work that makes for a compelling journey into this character. 

Cruella’s depiction by Stone is absolutely believable. Her natural ability to exude snark while acting a tad mad and delivering salty lines, all while seemingly enjoying herself, is bang on. It reflects the original in a way that isn’t based on all the previous character flaws. Stone’s Cruella laugh is even on point. 

All Estella wants is to work in fashion, to design. With the help of her friends Horace (Hauser) and Jasper (Fry), she finds an in. She catches the attention of fashion legend, The Baroness (Thompson). Dreams do sometimes come true! Or, maybe not. Emma Thompson artfully depicts herself as the “it” lady of London. She makes Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) from The Devil Wears Prada look like a street performer. In fact, both Emma’s feed off one another so well in their shared scenes it’s difficult to determine who is better. 

Paul Walter Hauser, Emma Stone, & Joel Fry in ‘Cruella’ Image Credit: Disney

The pace of the film is relatively good. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down about seventy-five percent of the way through, but it’s not for long before it picks up again. 

This film establishes who Cruella is and why. From there, Disney sets up what she could become in a sequel or two. They could choose to keep her “brilliant, bad, and a little mad” (as a tagline goes), letting her embrace villainy. Or something else. Honestly, Emma Stone’s performance is too fabulous to go good. This Cruella doesn’t need to be on the same path as the animated one to wreak havoc. Nor should she. By remodeling this character, it ensures her original toxic demeanor and subliminal approval of killing animals for sport is never again seen as acceptable. 

Cruella tells a story that’s not a remake and is better for it. 

This film is absolutely worth putting on your watchlist and seeing in theaters. 

—a pen lady