Friday, May 28, 2021

Summer movies roll out with alien-heavy 'Place' and mean 'Cruella'

So one isn't up to snuff when compared to the truly terrifying original, and the other attempts a so-so origin story that simply snuffs out any thought of those 101 darling Dalmatians that started it all.

Of course, we're talking about the two films neatly positioned to signal the unofficially-official, holiday start for the 2021 summer movie season, and the titles look like really big ones, boys and girls.

The Abbotts -- Jupe, Simmonds, Blunt -- face the unknown.
Let's launch with the much publicized, Covid-delayed "A Quiet Place Part II," where writer/director John Krasinski doesn't quite match the smart pacing from his 2018 thriller and those memorable sounds of silence that spoke volumes. Instead, we get many more entanglements with invading hordes of aliens we hardly saw at all in that less monster-happy original. 

The latest piece actually begins with an easily established panic sequence -- arguably among the movie's finest moments -- even before the title card appears. It's also the only time we get to watch Krasinki's steadying influence as the Abbott family patriarch who advanced his family through constant thick and thin during the last go-around.

Wife Evelyn (real-life Mrs. Krasinksi Emily Blunt), son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and daughter Regan (the almost magical Millicent Simmonds) all return anew, still moving forward, along with the unnamed infant born late in the first "Place" and again being creatively kept quiet so that the sound-hunting creatures won't attack and start chomping away. Yes, Evelyn remains the strong mom, and the deaf, ever-determined Regan stands tall to improve upon what she learned from her parents about courage and know-how.

Injured Marcus, though, is left only with a youthful curiosity that really serves no purpose other than to get in the way by bringing on the bad-guy beasties. That plot sham finds a sharper fix with Regan and a reluctantly helpful survivalist (Cillian Murphy) cutting to the chase in the search for safety.

Our own Great Lake Erie shoreline earns a cameo in that duo's most cinematically intense confrontation, this one featuring ever-watchable character actor Scoot McNairy, here billed as the creepy "Marina Man." If anyone asks, tell them the watery staging and filming occurred in Western New York's Chautauqua County, an annual vacation spot for many northeast Ohioans simply looking for a legitimately quiet place.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images; 1:40; $ $ $ out of $5

Also opening for the masses is the crowd-reaching "Cruella," a packed production apparently attempting to establish another film franchise with an assortment of gimmicks and gadgets and girl power galore.

Director Craig Gillespie ("I, Tonya") and five -- count 'em 5! -- credited screenwriters do dazzle with a few special moments, especially in areas of London-based extravaganza and, shall we say, "borrowing" the look and feel of "Oliver" to surround a '70s fashion set. Otherwise, theirs is a by-the-book procedure. I mean, the villainess (Emma Thompson, chewing scenery as the tyrannical "Baroness") precisely arrives at the half-hour mark; chief adversary and mean-spirited title character (Emma Stone) shows up in full fiery glory right on the hour; and the major, tell-all, see-it-coming "twist" gets unveiled 30 minutes later.

Alas, nearly another quarter hour is handed over to the final credits, which hint at the requisite sequel and lists the more than 30 songs often intruding on this costume-design rivalry story. Readers here know how much I appreciate music in a movie, but some choices play lamely at best. 

"Cruella" and "A Quiet Place Part II" both open in scores of theaters today, with the former also streaming now on Disney+ and the latter set to play on Paramount+ in 45 days.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some violence and thematic elements; 2:14; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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