I certainly didn't plan for it but I wasn't alone: Apparently something in the collective consciousness motivated great droves of us in the same direction. Maybe the denial/resignation I observed setting in six months ago has finally become as contagious as the virus that was and is its subject. Vaccination and the promise of summer may have created a cocktail of permission, infused with a hint of normalcy. Most likely, some inchoate amalgamation of all these forces, urges and frustrations just ... made it happen. I went back to the movies. It was remarkable for being unremarkable. I had a mask on, a number of people didn't, but that's as much part of normal as anything. The normalcy of it — the sense memory of theater seats and popcorn smells — was the defining characteristic.
Oh, and the fact that I haven't missed seeing movies in crowds. I can count on one hand the number of theater-going experiences that have actually been enhanced by the communal experience, those rare occasions when everybody showed up for the same reason, shut up when they were supposed to, laughed in the same places and worshipped at the altar of the moving image. This weekend, despite a pair of legitimately exciting movies to see on a big screen, was business as usual: the non-stop concession procession, the screaming toddler, the dog in the front row, the idle chatter, the narration of scenes playing out in real time. The only thing missing, mercifully, was somebody answering the phone at a climactic moment.
There's a lot of talk about saving theaters and preserving the movie-going experience as affordable, accessible family entertainment, and rightfully so. I revere the medium and respect the unifying capability of its place in our culture. I would rather sit in a cool, dark room with a huge screen and great speakers and watch movies than do most things. I just wish people could be better at it.
Still and all, I was glad, in my curmudgeonly way, to go back. And I celebrate the collective participation of the moviegoing public as a step toward healing from the weird, dull horror of the last year and half.
CRUELLA. My reaction to the late-stage, live-action Disney reimaginings of their classic catalog has been mixed, to say the least. While my enjoyment and opinion of their narrative success has varied wildly, I cannot fault any of them for lack of imagination or production value. Even the most poorly conceived Disney movie still gleams with vision unfettered by budget. And when the elements truly cohere, when the story works and the casting is right and the creative team share the vision, the dream factory can produce something remarkable: an atmospheric, transportive experience that reminds even cynical bastards like myself of the wonder and delight only movies can produce. It's possible I've gone goofy but Cruella has an inordinate magic to it and I deeply enjoyed it.
Young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), refusing to submit to the cruelty of her classmates, is targeted by the school's administration as a discipline problem. Her mother (Emily Beecham), believing fully in her daughter's vision and integrity, removes her from the school and sets out for London. Tragedy befalls them en-route, though, and Estella finds herself an orphan on the city's streets. She throws in with a couple of thieves and a decade passes, during which time she continues to cultivate a passion for fashion design (and is played by Emma Stone). A happy accident lands her a job with the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), who operates the foremost atelier in the land. Estella's talent gains her access to the Baroness, as well as an insight into the true content of her employer's character. This, of course, provides a point of entry for Cruella, our protagonist's alter-ego, a brazen, brilliant, near-maniacal rival to the Baroness.
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007; I, Tonya, 2017) works out with some stylistic flourishes here, but his great success is in showcasing the stellar cast and the utterly mind-blowing work of the costume and art departments. Their vision of the fashion world of swinging '70s London — a little gritty, a little effete, punk rock spray-painting the high street — is an example of how right a Disney movie can get it. Cruella's dresses alone (not to mention the sequences in which they are unveiled) are almost a feature unto themselves. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
A QUIET PLACE PART II. The less said about this one the better but only because the surprise of it is so integral to its success. John Krasinski returns as director, this time working from his own screenplay, and expands the world of the Abbott family in inventive, unexpected, but entirely appropriate ways. After a bang-up opening set-piece, the story picks up immediately after the events of A Quiet Place (2018), with Evelyn (Emily Blunt) leading Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her babe-in-arms away from the broken haven of their farm and into the unknown.
This is the rare sequel that meets and maybe exceeds the originality of the first installment, with a brilliantly conceived, deceptively simple structure that creates ever-mounting tension and previously unconsidered threats. The weekend's context aside, this is a very, very good time at the movies. PG13. 97M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT. Did he though? (Cups chin like Oprah.) R. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
DEMON SLAYER: MUGEN TRAIN. Revenge-minded, supernatural anime. R. 117 Min. BROADWAY.
RAYA & THE LAST DRAGON. Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina in an animated fantasy adventure with Southeast Asian vibes. PG. 112. BROADWAY.
SPIRIT UNTAMED. Horse girls, this is your animated adventure moment. 124M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.