What to watch | Emma Stone rules as Cruella, a new spin on a kids' classic and a provocative sci-fi thriller

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Emma Stone puts her own delicious spin on the infamous Cruella. (PHOTO: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Emma Stone puts her own delicious spin on the infamous Cruella. (PHOTO: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Cruella ****

Crime comedy. With Emma Stone, Emma Thompson and Joel Fry. ­Director: Craig Gillespie. 

Disney’s latest big live-­action spectacular is a new take on 101 Dalmatians villain Cruella de Vil. But like Maleficent (2014), which rewrote another classic villain’s origin story, this isn’t the Cruella you love to hate.

After the death of her mom in a sinister accident, little Estella is taken in by fellow ­orphans and London street urchins Jasper (Fry) and Horace (Richard Jewell’s Paul Walter Hauser). As they grow up, the trio – along with their two crafty mutts – grift to make ends meet, but the creative and talented Estella (Stone) dreams of becoming a designer like the esteemed Baroness von Hellman (Thompson). 

When she finally enters the fashion world and meets her idol, Estella’s life is turned upside down when she finds out her mom’s death was no accident. Determined to take her revenge, sweet Estella dons the garments and personality of her alter ego, Cruella. But will she be able to keep her sense of self in her quest for vengeance, or will she lose herself to Cruella?

Though I had admittedly low expectations, Cruella blew me away. Great-looking costumes and a killer sound­track combined with a fun script and great performances result in a highly entertaining movie. 

Thompson’s deliciously fiendish turn as an antagonist in the vein of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly blazes with star power while Stone – with a perfect English accent – shines just as brightly. 

Part heist flick, part fashion spectacular and part revenge caper, there’s something for everyone. You’ll need to leave your notions of who Cruella is at the door, but if you do, you’re in for a good time. 

Though ridiculous, over the top and featuring a few unnecessary CGI dogs, the movie is a huge amount of fun. 

If nothing else, the spectacular costumes by Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) are a feast for the eyes. – BIANCA LAMBRECHTS

2021. 133 MIN. 7-9PG DV. AVAILABLE ON GOOGLE PLAY, DSTV BOX OFFICE AND APPLE TV+.

The Secret Garden ****

Dixie Egerickx, The Secret Garden
Dixie Egerickx in The Secret Garden. (PHOTO: Sky)

Adventure. After her parents die during the turmoil of partition in ­India in 1947, spoilt British girl Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) is sent to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven (Colin Firth), at his ­manor house in Yorkshire. 

Following the death of his beloved wife, Archibald has retreated into his grief, and stern housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) ­orders Mary not to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. 

But the lonely child is soon overcome with curiosity and starts ­exploring the grounds, where she befriends a local boy, Dickon (The Letter for the King’s Amir Wilson), as well as the house, where she finds her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst), and other secrets.  

This latest adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel distinguishes itself from previous versions by adding a more ­diverse cast, an in-depth ­backstory and making the healing power of the garden literally magical. 

Purists might not enjoy these changes, but they add refreshing twists to the story while the core themes and characters remain ­intact and are as enchanting and life-affirming as ever. 

Director Marc Munden initially plays up the gloomy and somewhat sinister Gothic elements of the setup, which makes the splendour and joy of the hidden garden Mary discovers and the flashbacks of the beautifully decorated mansion in its former glory all the more striking. 

Unlike previous adaptations, the garden is impossibly huge and contains exotic plants that wilt and blossom according to the children’s emotions, adding elements of magical realism. 

Old hands Walters and Firth offer sturdy support, but it’s Egerickx and Hayhurst’s brave performances as at times unlikeable children made petulant and difficult due to neglect and abandonment that stand out. Watching them blossom through friendship and kindness is truly moving. 

Add to that stirring music from Dario Marianelli (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) and a hugely satisfying finale, and you have a winner sure to charm a new generation. 

2020. 100 MIN. 7-9PG DHV. ALSO AVAILABLE ON SHOWMAX, GOOGLE PLAY AND APPLE TV+.

Synchronic ***

Jamie Dornan, Anthony Mackie, SYNCHRONIC
Jamie Dornan (left) and Anthony Mackie in Synchronic. (PHOTO: Netflix)

Sci-fi thriller. Paramedics and lifelong friends Dennis (Jamie Dornan from 50 Shades of Grey) and Steve (Anthony Mackie, Falcon in the ­Marvel films) investigate a series of bizarre and horrifying deaths all linked to a drug called Synchronic.

The drug transports users to a ­different time for a few minutes, but when Dennis’ daughter (Into the Badlands’ Ally Ioannides) takes it and disappears, Steve sets out to find her. 

From this fairly simple premise, writer-director Justin Benson and co-director Aaron Moorhead craft a provocative, occasionally darkly funny film about race, purpose and life itself. 

Mackie is particularly good as a man with little to live for and nothing to lose or gain as a black man going back in time in America. – DENNIS CAVERNELIS

2020. 103 MIN. 16DLV. AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX. 

A: All ages   D: Drugs   H: Horror   L: Language   N: Nudity   P: Prejudice   PG: Parental guidance S: Sex  V: Violence



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