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A quiet week, aside from the fairly earth-shaking news that Amazon bought out MGM and their catalogue of films and IP for an exorbitant amount (I suppose that means expect all the Bond films and their future spin-off TV shows to hit Prime Video in the near future).
Though cinemas have reopened, it looks like for now studios like Disney are staying committed to day-and-date streaming releases of their new films, so things such as Cruella are playing both on the big screen and on-demand.
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Cruella - Disney+ with Premier Access
As long as it prints money Disney will continue to mine its vault for new ways to reinvent its priceless intellectual property, and the latest result of that impulse is Cruella. The would-be puppy murderer from 101 Dalmatians — quite literally named “cruel devil” — has been given a Joker type origin story, and I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie has been enlisted to tell it.
The story is set in 1970s London amidst the “punk rock revolution” (despite there apparently being little-to-no punk rock in its densely populated soundtrack), and Cruella (Emma Stone) is actually known as Estella, a young grifter and fashion hopeful. She eventually catches the eye of Miranda Priest — wait, I mean Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) — and the relationship between the two sets Estella on the path to eventually being a dog murderer. While we have sadly not been given the opportunity to watch this ahead of the time of writing, reviews are largely positive with many praising the film’s knowing silliness in telling the backstory of such a character, and Jenny Beavan’s excellent costume work.
Also new on Disney+: Little Miss Sunshine, Launchpad: A Short Film Collection, 12 Rounds, The Art of Racing In The Rain
Missing Link - BBC iPlayer
Perhaps one of the most popular and most interesting alternatives to mainstream American feature animation still going, the work of Laika Studios is not to be slept on. The creepy and beautiful Coraline as well as the adventurous and heartbreaking Kubo and the Two Strings are some of the finest work to come out of an animation house, and feels like a strong fight to keep the art of stop motion in the popular consciousness. Missing Link is made with all the same thoughtfulness and beauty, a story of identity, blood ties and found family that’s as amusing as it is touching, even if it turns out to be not quite as spectacular as its predecessors. It’s also interesting in how it ties colonialist ideals to the decay of the natural world and hypocritical notions of (white) civilised society versus ‘savagery’.
The construction of Laika’s works is just as fascinating as the worlds that they’re building — time lapse shots of stop motion sets being painstakingly made often playing as one of the highlights of the movie. Missing Link is no different, an immensely beautiful work that demands even more time in its lush locales and is perhaps undermined by its rushed pace - but it’s still one of the finest American animated works in some time.
Also new on iPlayer: Coco, Zodiac, Foxcatcher
Spider-Man: Far From Home - Netflix
There’s a piece missing from the new Spider-Man films, and it’s not a small one. The new lead of a franchise that has been rebooted now twice in just a decade, Tom Holland is plenty capable (and adorable) as Peter Parker; where Tobey Maguire had earnestness and romantic yearning and Andrew Garfield had snark, Holland has boyish charms and innocence played up in these new films. Holland and the rest of the cast gel well together and the Spider-Man films’ return to high school is a welcome one, even if the body horror and silver age homages of Raimi’s films is sorely missed.
But what’s really missing – from the Amazing Spider-Man films as well – is the sense of Peter as a working class hero, his struggles being relatable not just because he’s a teenager dealing with teenage problems but because he’s dealing with financial trouble just as often as a costumed villain as well. Worse still, for a time it continues to make Peter the heir apparent to Iron Man, a billionaire and former arms dealer, and though it eventually shifts away from this, it still feels like the wrong vibe.
Watch a trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home
Far From Home follows suit with Homecoming in transferring those working class anxieties to the villains, making their motivations believable and understandable but then jumping into what’s now a Marvel Studios cliché of “technically correct, but with evil methods!” At least that villain Mysterio — played with deranged charm by Jake Gyllenhaal — is extremely fun to watch as a meta-commentary on the superhero movie itself: big CG monsters and costumed crusaders from another dimension being part of a fabrication and a con by the villain, leading to some action sequences in its middle section that show some genuine ingenuity.
The final act is a fairly typical superhero blowout, but for the most part Far From Home is one of the more entertaining Marvel features.
Also new on Netflix: The Divine Ponytail, Army of the Dead