Sometime in the future, Cameron (Mahershala Ali), diagnosed with a terminal illness, contemplates an alternative solution by his doctor (Glenn Close) – a clone will take his place, sparing his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris) and his young son Cory (Dax Rey at 8) the grief of his loss. They must not discover the deception. In this heavy — and heavy-handed “Swan Song,” altering their fate has consequences. Can he let go, and how much can we sacrifice in such cases?
With its daring premise and showing the technology to back up messing with fate, “Swan Song” takes us on an unusual journey. However, without two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali delivering a heart-wrenching performance – and this time in a dual role, this film would be a slow-moving ‘what if?’ storyline without much to recommend.
Writer-director Benjamin Cleary, who won an Oscar for his short “Stutterer” in 2015, raises ethical questions but fumbles by not fully develop any answers, or explain certain aspects about the likelihood of technology overreach and those inherent implications. Playing God has its costs. (And shouldn’t we know this?)
The tone is all over the place. It’s cold and clinical with a lot of fancy high-tech, slick 3-D graphics (Cam is a graphic designer) and sterile surroundings, but then it’s warm and fuzzy when depicting happy family scenes.
Dax Rey, as 8-year-old cute-as-a-button Cory, melts your heart during the time he spends with his father. As his wife Poppy, Naomie Harris has terrific chemistry with Ali – they were both Oscar-nominated for their performances in “Moonlight,” with Ali winning Best Supporting Actor in 2017. He won two years later for “Green Book.”
That trio’s emotional earnestness goes a long way in softening such disconcerting material. But it’s not enough to overcome what is, for the most part, a dull slog.
The small ensemble includes Awkwafina as a glum participant in the experiment who becomes friends with Cam.
The replica, who has been programmed with all of Cam’s memories, emotions, and experiences, is groomed to take over and will assume his place in the family. Two weeks after that, everything will seem normal – like there was no replacement and the clone won’t think he is a clone.
Some of the movie’s puzzling elements include not explaining his illness, and it’s just weird that the doctors have a compound where the dying live out their final days without their loved ones, who will never know about the secret experiments.
With any loss, not being able to say goodbye is always a regret. Therefore, this seems cruel, not helpful. Are we saying loss is too painful so let’s live a lie so that others, oblivious, will live longer happily ever after (up to a point).
Isn’t death an inevitable part of life? How we cope is key to the human experience.
Here, Ali’s Cam is jealous of the clone – and suspicious, and it’s all gone too smooth, except for him getting testy about the clone’s ease in assimilating into his former life. One of the reasons he wants to shield his wife is that her twin brother had died a year earlier, and she fell into a deep depression over his death.
These kinds of scientific fiction films are always trippy mind-benders, only this one happens to be just ‘meh.” We need more of a satisfying story to understand and accept it.
“Swan Song” appears incomplete, leaving out crucial details and then ending abruptly. Nevertheless, Ali has become one of our most reliable and exciting actors, so his performance is a standout in an otherwise tepid film.
“Swan Song” is a 2021 sci-fi drama written and directed by Benjamin Cleary. It stars Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, Awkwafina and Dax Rey and is rated R for heated language. In select theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ starting Dec. 17. Lynn’s Grade: C
By Lynn Venhaus A cheeky live-action prequel that delves into the down-and-out origins of one of Disney’s iconic villains, “Cruella” is a dark tale of dueling divas hell-bent on revenge.
That’s an unexpected underdog twist – and this glossy reimagining bursts with a bold, brassy attitude.
Estella de Vil (Emma Stone) wasn’t born to be bad, but she was a nonconformist at an early age.
Born with the unmistakable two-tone hair, Estella’s a creative but mischievous child (a spunky Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) who is a handful for her mother (Emily Beecham).
When she strikes out on her own on the streets, that begins her relationship with Jasper and Horace, who are rakishly played by character actors Joel Fry of “Yesterday” and Paul Walter Hauser of “Richard Jewell” as adults — good-hearted blokes. They survive as grifters.
But the future fashionista has a dream and is singled out by superstar designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who likes her style – and appropriates it for her collections. Haughty and vain, the Baroness has destroyed everyone in her way – but has she met her match in Cruella? The rebellious alter ego of Estella, Cruella’s punk rock outfits are redefining fashion in 1970s London, and it is game on!
The story, long in the works, was first drafted by screenwriters Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis. McKenna wrote “The Devil Wears Prada” and you see those fingerprints all over this latest chapter in the “101 Dalmatians” oeuvre by co-screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara.
This is where Emma Thompson takes over, commanding every frame she is in, with personality and pizzazz, as she forges Estella/Cruella’s identity.
A chance encounter with The Baroness von Hellman, the prima donna of haute couture, puts Estella on the path to realize a career as a designer. As played by Thompson, the wickedly evil Baroness is a despicable human and corrupt fashionista. As Cruella learns more, she stakes her claim as “The Future” of fashion. She takes swinging London by storm.
This is when the movie explodes with fresh and fun outfits in a swirl of black, white and red — the notorious colors associated with all things Cruella. Jenny Beavan’s costume designs are marvelous, a big loud rebel yell of punk-inspired outfits and gorgeous evening garments perfect for dramatic entrances. Beavan’s won Oscars for “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “A Room with a View,” and her use of different fabrics and textures is stunning.
These costumes are worn with flair by two of our best actresses, Oscar winners Stone and Thompson, who have a ball with the campier aspects of their roles — but also vividly create their characters’ dead-serious nature.
As for the Dalmatians that first created the Disney franchise all the way back to 1961, three mean ones appear as the pets of the Baroness. Hence, Cruella’s aversion to the spotted creatures. Estella’s own pet dog is a beloved mutt named Buddy.
Stay past the credits to find more on Anita and Roger, a nod to Pongo and Perdita’s future family.
The source material for all of the successive movies, including the live-action “101 Dalmatians” in 1996 and the 2000 “102 Dalmatians” starring Glenn Close as the imperious villain, has been Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel.
She turned a character’s last name from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Count de Ville, into this greedy villainess, driving a Rolls Royce and barking orders to her henchman, to fill her insatiable need for animal fur.
Where the franchise is headed after “Cruella” is anyone’s guess – because how would Stone’s character turn into the menacing de Vil that steals the dogs for their fur?
Well, that discussion is for another day, but it’s a logical question – where does it go from here after Cruella takes over Hell(man) Hall?
As for a stand-alone movie, “Cruella” is a vibrant creation with a banging period soundtrack and a game cast.
Just as he did with “I, Tonya,” director Craig Gillespie zigs when you expect him to zag.
The Baroness’ actions are too frightening for young children, so parents be aware. There is nothing remotely cute about this movie.
But as it is Disney, expect lots of merchandise, tie-ins and another one in the works. That’s about the only predictable element to this film.
“Cruella” is a 2020 comedy-drama directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mark Strong. Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements and the run time is 2 hours, 14 minutes. It is available in theaters and on Disney Plus for a one-time premium access fee on May 28. Lynn’s Grade: B+
In theaters and on Disney Plus with Premier Access one-time additional fee May 28
On this President’s Day, let’s look back at the films
centered around an American President, and what actors were best at portraying
the Commander-in-Chief – be it fact or fiction. Here are some of my favorite
dramas, comedies and even romances that included the most powerful leader of
the free world. We are only listing theatrical films and the HBO film
adaptation of “All the Way.”
If we included television, we’d have a wider pool, and that’s
for another list. What are your favorites that spotlight our U.S. leader?
1.Lincoln (2012) — Daniel Day-Lewis not only delivers the best presidential portrayal ever on screen, but also one of the best male performances of all-time. Day-Lewis won his third Oscar, and it was never in doubt. Just a remarkable portrayal of Abe as a man struggling to hold the country together and lead them to higher ground. Director Steven Spielberg brought a humanity to the story rarely seen in historical portraits.
2. Dave (1993) — Kevin Kline is Dave Kovic, who is hired to impersonate the commander-in-chief when President Bill Mitchell suffers a stroke during an illicit affair.
A comedic take on an everyman winning over government wonks with his common sense, solidly directed by Ivan Reitman. Sigourney Weaver is a formidable First Lady.
3. Thirteen Days (2000) – President John F. Kennedy saved the day when we were on the brink of nuclear war with Russia, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is a historical look back at this tense political time in 1962, through the perspective of White House assistant Kenneth P. O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), with Bruce Greenwood strong as JFK.
4. The American President (1995) – This is Aaron Sorkin’s idealism front and center before “The West Wing.”
Michael Douglas shines as a widowed president running for re-election who starts a romance with an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening, but the political fallout affects their relationship.
Savvy script, smart casting (especially Martin Sheen and Michael J. Fox as chief of staff and press secretary) make this Rob Reiner-helmed comedy-drama a memorable one.
5. Air Force One (1997) – Harrison Ford as kick-butt President James Marshall. Love it! The fit commander-in-chief is a Vietnam vet in this political action-thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen. A group of terrorists hijack the president’s plane and threaten the U.S. but our hero won’t let that happen on his watch. Glenn Close is the vice president and Gary Oldman the Russian bad guy, but it is Ford, in all his star power, as the take-charge head of state that made this movie one of the most successful of the ‘90s.
6. Nixon (1995) – Anthony Hopkins embodied the beleaguered president during his tumultuous White House years, with Joan Allen riveting as his long-suffering wife Pat. Oliver Stone directed, so the agenda is clear.
7. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Frank Langella was Oscar-nominated as the disgraced Nixon seeking redemption in his four-part interviews with Britain’s David Frost in 1977. Ron Howard sharply directed the adaptation of Peter Morgan’s 2006 play, with whip-smart movie script by the playwright.
8. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – Director John Ford teamed up with actor Henry Fonda for this look at honest Abe during his early years. Fonda embodies the heroic ideals of the lawyer and statesman who would become the 16th president of the United States.
9. All the Way (2016) — Bryan Cranston won a well-deserved Tony Award for his masterful portrayal of Lyndon Baines Johnson during the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 2014 play by Robert Schenkkan.
This is the Emmy-nominated HBO adaptation, written by the playwright and directed by Jay Roach. Cranston is again uncanny as political animal LBJ, and the all-star cast includes Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover, Bradley Whitford as Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson.
10. The Contender (2000) — The wonderful Jeff Bridges is a likeable two-term Democratic President, Jackson Evans, who decides to break the glass ceiling and appoint a woman Vice-President after the current one dies.
However, his nominee, Ohio Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) gets entangled in vicious hearings with a bullseye on her back. This political thriller is written and directed by Rod Lurie, a former newspaper guy. Both Bridges and Allen were nominated for Oscars.
11. Primary Colors (1998) – John Travolta was at the top of his game portraying Jack Stanton, a charismatic Southern governor running for president. Recognize anyone? Based on the 1996 “Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics” by Newsweek’s Joe Klein, this fictionalized account of Clinton’s 1992 campaign had a crackerjack supporting cast (Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oscar nominee Kathy Bates), sharply directed by Mike Nichols and written by his former comedy partner Elaine May.
12. Southside with You (2016) – A ‘what if’ movie that works, quirks and all, with its imagining of what Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama’s first date was like back when they were lawyers in Chicago. Written and directed by Richard Tanner, this little charmer comes alive when the nervous future two-term president shows off his oratory skills at a community meeting. Parker Sawyer is a genuinely believable Obama but Tika Sumpter really shines as the life force who would become First Lady Michelle Obama.
14. Elvis and Nixon (2016) – You may think this is preposterous, but this really did happen. And it’s one goofy movie. On Dec. 21, 1970, rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley went to the White House for a meeting with President Richard Nixon – and that historical photograph is the most requested one at the National Archives. Talk about offbeat casting — Michael Shannon is a different kind of Elvis while Kevin Spacey impersonates Nixon.
16. Independence Day (1996) – Bill Pullman is memorable President Thomas J. Whitmore facing an alien invasion, and his rallyng-all-Americans speech is one of the best-known in films. Here is the transcript of that great speech:
President Whitmore: Good morning. Good morning. In less than an hour aircrafts from here will join others from around the world and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July and you will once again be fighting for our freedom not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution but from annihilation.
We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist, and should we win today the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American President holiday but is the day when the world declared in one voice,
“We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
This epic sci-fi disaster film made $817.4 million and won the Oscar for Best VIsual Effects.
17. Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” (2013) and 18. “White House Down” (2013) These aren’t films of particularly lasting impact but the casting of the presidents is genius.
In “The Butler,” Forest Whitaker plays a White House employee who serves multiple presidents – and this casting is certainly eyebrow-raising:
Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Marsden as JFK, Liev Shreiber as LBJ, John Cusack as Nixon, and the most brilliant turn by Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Nancy!).
Jamie Foxx is the kick-ass president in the action thriller “White House Down,” which came out at the same time as the inferior “Olympus Has Fallen,” all about a terrorist group creating chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s terrific and a good match-up with Channing Tatum as a heroic Secret Serviceman.
Honorable Mentions: Oscar nominee Sam Rockwell is pitch-perfect as George W. Bush in “Vice” (2018), but he’s barely a supporting character. In Natalie Portman’s tour de force “Jackie,” Caspar Phillipson and John Carroll Lynch are effective portraying John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson.