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Cruella (2021) Review

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Cruella

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Emma Stone as Estella Miller/Cruella de Vil
Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman
Joel Fry as Jasper Badun
Paul Walter Hauser as Horace Badun
Emily Beecham as Catherine Miller
Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita “Tattletale” Darling
Mark Strong as John
Director: Craig Gillespie

Estella (Emma Stone) is a young and clever grifter who’s determined to make a name for herself in the fashion world. She soon meets a pair of thieves (Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser) who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they build a life for themselves on the streets of London. However, when Estella befriends fashion legend Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), she embraces her wicked side to become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella.

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Cruella was a movie I wasn’t entirely excited for in the lead up to its release. While I haven’t seen all the live action Disney remakes, generally they’ve felt rather average and not that impressive. However there were a few reasons I was slightly interested for Cruella. One was the cast, which included Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. There is also the fact that it’s an origin story for Cruella de Vil, which although potentially unnecessary, does mean that it’s probably going to do more than just be a repeat of the animated movie’s story beats. Also the trailers looked decent, and hinted at being more than just a replication of the animated movie. Cruella actually surprised me quite a bit and I liked it.

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Cruella was 2 hours and 14 minutes long, despite the fact that the movie is very fast paced, and I was entertained throughout. The plot is rather predictable and familiar (not necessarily in terms of it being a Disney movie), but nonetheless I was interested to see where it would go. Throughout when you’re watching the movie, you might be wondering how this version of Cruella de Vil is supposed to link up with the versions of Cruella de Vil that we are more familiar with. I get the feeling however that this is actually a reimagining of the character, and if that’s the case then I’m entirely on board with that. Even by the end, she’s more of an anti-hero than a full on villain. One way where the two versions of Cruella differ is with regard to the dogs, you don’t need to worry about seeing any puppy/dog killing because there’s none here. There’s even two dogs who are with Estalla/Cruella and the thieves she’s teamed up with, so it is definitely taking a different approach to the character. It is an origin story for Cruella de Vil, and while it does seem a bit unnecessary to bolt a tragic backstory and try to force it in, I was surprisingly rather engaged. One of the things that emerged online about the movie as soon as it came out was a particular moment involving dalmatians in the first 20 minutes, and yes it is rather ridiculous and forced. However it actually works alright in the movie itself, partly because of the tone. Throughout. it does have a rather campy tone, so some of the sillier aspects and issues seem to work alright here, including a flawed story and cheesy dialogue. I’m not certain that I’ve watched the original 101 Dalmatians movie but there were some moments that referred to that film, and they were quite on the nose. It was almost like the filmmakers were contractually obliged to include them. However there weren’t as many of those moments as I thought they would be, nor did they take away from the rest of the story. I feel like by it being an origin story, it actually had freedom to be its own movie (a crime comedy) rather than being restricted to just repeating story beats from a pre-existing film. For those interested, there’s a mid credits scene which hints towards a sequel.

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The cast were among the strongest parts of the movie. First of all is Emma Stone as Estella/Cruella de Vil, who turned out to be a surprisingly great casting choice. Stone humanises her and adds so much to the character, while giving a larger than life performance and is clearly having a great time in the role. Even if you don’t like the rest of the movie, I do think Cruella is worth watching for her alone. There’s also Emma Thompson as The Baroness, and her character does seem very similar to Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. However it actually sort of works for this movie, and Thompson is great as the film’s scene chewing and hateable villain. The back and forth between her and Stone is very enjoyable to watch. Also really good are Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as the thieves that are teamed up with Estella/Cruella, and the three play off each other very well. Hauser particularly stands out, especially with his perfect line delivery and comedic timing.

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Cruella also benefits a lot from the energised direction of Craig Gillespie. Performances aside, the stylistic direction elevates the script immensely. The setting of 70s London is beautifully filmed with gorgeous cinematography and has well detailed set designs, it lends itself well to the fashion, music and grimy aesthetic. The wardrobe is fantastic as to be expected, the costumes are absolutely extravagant, and the visual style really showed them off well. The score from Nicholas Britell (who also composed Succession, Vice, Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, The King and more) is amazing as to be expected from him, and really adds a lot to the film. The soundtrack has a great lineup of songs, even if many of them feel very on the nose and there are too many needle drop moments. On a technical level, really the only aspect that isn’t so great is the CGI, especially the effects used for the dogs.

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One could argue that Cruella is an unnecessary movie, and in a way it is. However I can’t deny that I was enjoying it throughout. The plot is not the best but did enough to have me actually interested to see how things would progress, it’s directed with a very distinct style, and the performances were all great, especially Emma Stone as the titular character. There’s a sequel in talks, and while I’m not sure how it would be possible, I’m not against it. Even if you aren’t such a big fan of the recent live action Disney remakes, I think Cruella is worth checking out.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) Review

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Da 5 Bloods

Time: 154 Minutes
Cast:
Delroy Lindo as Paul
Jonathan Majors as David
Clarke Peters as Otis
Norm Lewis as Eddie
Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin
Chadwick Boseman as Norman Earl “Stormin’ Norm” Holloway
Mélanie Thierry as Hedy Bouvier
Paul Walter Hauser as Simon
Jasper Pääkkönen as Seppo Havelin
Jean Reno as Desroche
Director: Spike Lee

The story of four African American Vets – Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) – who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature – while confronted by the lasting ravages of the immorality of the Vietnam War.

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I only found out months ago that Netflix would be releasing the next Spike Lee joint, Da 5 Bloods, and just the mere fact that he was making a new film had me interested. Although I’ve only now seen like 5 of his movies, he’s definitely got a unique style and vision, and he’s a great director, and so I’m looking forward to seeing any of his movies. Da 5 Bloods is one of his best films, and considering it’s coming from the man behind movies like BlacKKKlansman, Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, that’s saying a lot.

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It’s a very long movie at 2 hours and 30 minutes but I was pretty invested throughout. It does well to balance the tone throughout, between dark comedy and some emotional and character driven moments. I will say that for the first hour I did like the movie, it’s pretty entertaining, funny and I was invested throughout. However it was mainly the second half where I started to love it. There are some truly impactful moments that I wasn’t expecting, and its truly affecting. It’s greatly written, with sharp and impactful dialogue, and multi dimensional characters. It’s very thematic like a lot of other Spike Lee films, and there’s a lot of hard hitting commentary, mainly of course about race in America (in fact its date of release happens to be quite perfect). You feel the passion and urgency throughout, and you can really tell this was a personal project for Lee throughout the entirety of the movie. There’s a lot to absorb and take in with Da 5 Bloods, it’s a war movie but there are a lot of layers to it, and the more I think about it, the more I love it.

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The whole cast are great. Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. are the main cast, and all of them are fantastic. The dynamic between the main characters is very believable, between Lindo, Peters, Lewis and Whitlock Jr. as veterans who served together, as well as Lindo and his character’s son played by Majors, who have a very strained relationship. Of that main cast however, it’s Lindo who stands out the most, as someone who really gone through a lot to say the least. His performance is truly heartbreaking and practically made the whole film, he’s central to the whole story and he does so much. It might be too early to talk about it, but I really hope he gets some sort of awards recognition for his sledgehammer of a performance. Also notable is Chadwick Boseman as the dead squad leader of the group, you only see him in like flashbacks but his performance in the scenes he’s in, along with how he’s utilised in the film makes him a noticeable presence throughout.

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Spike Lee is a great director, but this is some of his best work. The flashbacks back to the main 5 soldiers fighting in Vietnam have the aspect ratio change to 4:3 and with grain, it’s simple but nonetheless quite effective. This is not an action movie but the scenes of violence, and the tense moments are directed excellently. There’s one moment in particular that stands out as being incredibly tense, you’ll know what it is when you see it. You also get a lot of Spike Lee trademarks, with the flashy editing, heavy monologues (sometimes directly to the camera), all of that’s here, and in fact this is some of the best editing in a Spike Lee movie I’ve seen. Splicing in pictures and footage from real life played a big part in that. It’s a great looking movie too, the cinematography by Newton Thomas Siegel is outstanding. The music is also good, from the score by Terence Blanchard, and the pre-existing songs that were perfectly throughout the film.

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Da 5 Bloods is truly fantastic film, entertaining and funny yet impactful and emotionally affecting, part thematic war thriller, part character study. Add on top of that an outstanding ensemble of performances, and Da 5 Bloods easily ranks among Netflix’s best films, and among Spike Lee’s best films. Watch it as soon as you can, it’s currently my favourite film of 2020.

BlacKKKlansman (2018) Review

Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence, offensive language, sexual references & content that may disturb
Cast:
John David Washington as Detective Ron Stallworth
Adam Driver as Detective Flip Zimmerman
Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas
Topher Grace as David Duke
Jasper Pääkkönen as Felix Kendrickson
Ryan Eggold as Walter Breachway
Paul Walter Hauser as Ivanhoe
Director: Spike Lee

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white surrogate (Adam Driver), who eventually becomes head of the local branch.

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BlacKKKlansman is a movie I had been hearing about for a while: a black police officer successfully infiltrates the KKK is definitely a memorable premise with potential. With that premise and Spike Lee helming it, it looks like it could be something fantastic, and it certainly is that and more. However it still surprised me at how phenomenal it turned out to be. Excellent in its writing, acting and direction, BlacKKKlansman is entertaining, masterfully done and really is an essential viewing, and one of the best films of 2018.

I was entertained and interested in BlacKKKlansman. As far as accuracy goes, while I’m not certain, from what I can tell I think most of it is accurate, save for certain aspects that have been changed (like Laurie Harrier playing a character based on multiple real people) to benefit the movie overall. This movie does have a lot of comedy, as to be expected with a premise about a black man infiltrating the KKK. One of the best things about BlacKKKlansman is that it knows how absurd and insane it is, it pokes fun at the things that happened (such as the fact that the lead character, Ron Stallworth used his own name when contacting the KKK instead of using a fake name). However at the same time it takes things very seriously. The scenes of tension, mostly consisting of whether or not the KKK will realise that they have been duped, are really done well. One criticism that I know a lot of people will have is the lack of any subtlety. Spike Lee is known for not being the most subtle of directors, and BlacKKKlansman is not really any different, however I do think it really works very well here. A lot of the absurd things that happens, really did happen, so it’s not like Spike exaggerated a ton of stuff for entertainment or anything. Also, it’s impossible to be subtle about a lot of what happens here, especially with everything that has been going on nowadays. And in case you haven’t figured it out earlier, yes, BlacKKKlansman is a very political movie, there’s a reason why this movie was released a year after Charlottesville. There are reminders throughout the movie amongst the comedy that what happened here is real and it’s not afraid to delve deep into the unpleasantness of what happened/is happening. There are some direct references between what happens here to what happens in present day, no a lot of them aren’t subtle but it’s hard to be subtle with all this. The ending is going to be a topic of discussion, without delving deep into it (it’s not really a spoiler), it connects things to real life. A lot of people are not going to like it but even though you could cut it out and the movie would still work, I feel it was warranted because it takes you right back to reality in an incredibly sobering way. It leaves you with an absolutely shocked reaction, reminding you that no matter that Ron Stallworth duped the David Duke and how fun the ride was watching it, we aren’t done with racism and bigotry today. BlacKKKlansman is sure to provoke a lot of controversy and discussion.

John David Washington plays Ron Stallworth, and he did a great job. He has such a great amount of charisma (yes there are times where you can really see a lot of his father Denzel in him) and gives everything to this role. One interesting aspect is when it comes to him being a cop and black at the same time, and how that can result in some conflicts sometimes. This is particularly apparent when it comes to his interactions with Laurie Harrier, who is also good in her role. Harrier plays an amalgamation of different people but in the movie she’s the president of the black student union, and there is a bit of conflict between them regarding cops, because of course with racist cops abusing black people, and it was an interesting dynamic to watch. Also, the film doesn’t give a definite answer whether black people being cops is right or not, it shows the debate and allows the audience to decide for themselves. Adam Driver is also good as the white police officer who meets with the KKK in person acting as Ron Stallworth, who’s more reluctant to get involved with it than Ron. Driver proves himself to be once again one of the best actors working today. Topher Grace plays David Duke, the grand wizard of the KKK and you don’t see a ton of him but he was great. He seems so unassuming and seemingly charismatic on a surface level, yet he is shown to be clearly reprehensible. Portraying such a person is not easy and as uncomfortable as it was, Grace pulled it off really well. The other Klansman members, played by actors like Jaspar Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold and Paul Walter Hauser are also great in their roles. Other actors like Michael Buscemi and Corey Hawkins are also good in their roles as well.

Spike Lee really does a fantastic job at setting the movie in the time period, with the costumes, production design, locations, music and more, the movie feels right in the late 70s. His style, direction and the editing really added to this movie incredibly well, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. The editing in particular should be praised, it led to some great sequence. For example there is one instance where they cut between scenes of the KKK and the black rights movement in the third act and it was really effective and impactful.

BlacKKKlansman is funny, shocking, important, entertaining, gripping, and all around fantastic. All the acting, direction and writing come together to bring a great movie and one of Spike Lee’s best (and that’s a lot considering some of the films that he’s made). BlacKKKlansman is not just one of the best movies of 2018, it might actually end up being the best so far.

I, Tonya (2017) Review

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Domestic violence, sexual violence, sex scenes & offensive language
Cast
Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding
Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly
Allison Janney as LaVona Fay Golden
Julianne Nicholson as Diane Rawlinson
Caitlin Carver as Nancy Kerrigan
Bojana Novakovic as Dody Teachman
Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn Eckhardt
Bobby Cannavale as Martin Maddox
Dan Triandiflou as Bob Rawlinson
Director: Craig Gillespie

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) rises through the ranks of competitive figure skating only to find disgrace when her husband (Sebastian Stan) tries to eliminate her rival.

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I, Tonya had my interest because of the cast (with Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan), premise and the trailers. I wasn’t very familiar about Tonya Harding and going into it had a very vague knowledge about the incident with her and Nancy Kerrigan. I was expecting from I, Tonya great performances and I definitely got that. But I didn’t expect this to be one of my favourite films of the year. The style, the story, everything somehow worked together to make a great biopic that surprised me on many levels.

I, Tonya covers more than just the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident, it also covers Tonya’s life in chronological order, so we actually get to know her before “the incident” occurs. From start to finish it cuts to many of the characters/people in interview tapes who tell their side of the story, sometimes there are conflicting stories, especially between Tonya and her ex husband Jeff. One of the best strengths that the film has is that it is a dark comedy, it makes the film a lot more entertaining than if it just showed the events play out. The comedy somehow works and works seamlessly, it doesn’t feel forced at all. Some of the comedy comes from just how ridiculous some events were and how stupid many of the people were (particularly Tonya’s bodyguard played by Paul Walter Hauser). However, despite the comedy and entertaining style, it doesn’t hold back on a lot of the darker things that happened. A lot of it is quite hard to watch with Tonya having to deal with things such as abuse from both her mother and her husband, and of course the end of Tonya’s career because of the incident with Nancy Kerrigan. As someone who didn’t know a lot about Tonya Harding, let’s just say that events played out like how I didn’t think they would, so I was invested from start to finish, and barely anything took me out of the movie.

Margot Robbie has already proved herself to be a great actress in the past 5 years but with I, Tonya she has delivered her best work yet, she was absolutely phenomenal as Tonya Harding. Margot really transformed into Tonya and brought her to the big screen, a lot of the time you will probably forget that it’s Margot who’s playing her. While we don’t always agree with what Tonya does, we can understand why she does the things she does. There are particularly some scenes that Margot has in the last act which are some of the best pieces of acting that she’s ever done, particularly two certain moments. This is one of the best performances of the year for sure. Sebastian Stan really surprised me as Tonya’s ex husband Jeff Gillooly. Throughout the majority of the film I actually forgot that it was Sebastian Stan who was playing him. His performance shouldn’t be overlooked. Allison Janney is also incredible as Tonya’s abusive mother, she is a force to be reckoned with and steals every scene that she’s in. Although she has some moments which are funny, on the whole she is at times frightening in the way she acts towards Tonya, she really leaves a strong impact. Other actors like Julianne Nicholson and Paul Walter Hauser were also great and played their part well.

The direction by Craig Gillespie was solid, very stylistic. Some people have accused the film of stealing the style from Martin Scorsese’s many crime movies, often calling it Goodfellas on ice and I can see a lot of similarities and why they would say that. It breaks the fourth wall multiple times, many of the characters at times talk to the camera (especially when it cuts to present day in the interview room scenes) and there is a lot of narration. However, something about it just worked here that I didn’t mind that it was essentially trying to imitate a Scorsese style. The one aspect that didn’t work so well however was the use of music, at times the song choices felt a little on the nose and convenient and it was distracting occasionally. The ice skating scenes themselves were great, some of the ice skating was probably not done by Margot but at least for me, I thought they did a good job hiding that.

I, Tonya manages to bring to the big screen not only the story behind Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan incident, but also Tonya’s life story and it was done so well, better than I thought it would be. The way it was directed and portrayed was great and the performances from everyone, especially from Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney were outstanding and some of the best of the year. One of the biggest things I can say about it is that I’m also pretty sure that Gillespie and the cast and crew have redefined who Tonya Harding is, she is no longer known as just the infamous ice-skater who “supposedly” had another skater’s knee bashed in. I, Tonya is one of the best films of the year and shouldn’t be missed.