Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Summer ’21: ‘Mare of Easttown,’ ‘Cruella,’ and More

Emma Stone as ‘Cruella’ in Disney’s live-action ‘CRUELLA’ — Photo: Disney / Disney+.

In this edition of my monthly movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I reveal my mixed thoughts on the Emma Stone-vehicle Cruella, and then I recommend three television shows, one of which I’ve been meaning to review for several months. This edition of Additional Bite-Sized Reviews is jam-packed!


  • What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
    – My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select films, shows, and even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
  • Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
    – In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.

Cruella | Film | Dir. Craig Gillespie | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Disney+ with Premier Access | Recommended?: Mixed Thoughts.

Although I’m fairly sure that me and my sister saw both the animated Disney classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians as well as the live-action films starring Glenn Close several times when we were young, I have to admit that I don’t remember the movies too well. As a dog person, I know that I viewed Cruella as a villain first and foremost, but I don’t know that I really gave those films all that much thought, other than the notion that I’m pretty sure Glenn Close’s portrayal scared me a little bit when I was young. So while there certainly were times when I thought this new film was veering in a direction that seemed non-canonical, I think it would be wrong of me to make assumptions about the films that I haven’t really seen since I was a kid. The director and the writers could be right on the money, or they could just call it a reimagining.

As a reboot and/or prequel, it is obvious for anyone with an understanding of the emerging trends in Hollywood that Gillespie’s Cruella is borrowing at least a little bit from Todd Phillips’ Joker. The film tries to justify the main character’s villainous turn with a rags-to-riches origin story — Cruella’s real name is ‘Estella’! — that also reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada. What the film really is, though, is a heist-revenge film with a killer soundtrack — though perhaps the ‘needle-drops’ are a little bit too obvious — and a decidedly punk rock character twist of sorts. There can be no doubt that you can have a lot of fun with this film, and I think Emma Stone certainly did. Though sometimes the ‘Cruella’-character felt like too much a performance — a deception — which I’m not sure was intentional.

I think that my biggest problem with the film, however, is the way the film has been put together. The film is almost bookended by two scenes on a cliff that I thought were just too ridiculous to believe, and, as a whole, I think the film is just a little bit too predictable. So, I have mixed feelings on the film, even though I really did think that the 1970s London punk rock attitude was executed in a really fun way. The best thing about the film, though, are Jenny Beavan’s sometimes jaw-dropping costumes. There’s a lot to like here, even though I wasn’t sold on everything here.

Mare of Easttown | Limited Series | Created by Brad Ingelsby | Release Year: 2021 | Season Length: 7 Episodes | Seen on: HBO Nordic | Recommended?: Yes.

The fact that Mare of Easttown became almost an instant hit shouldn’t surprise anyone at all. The combination of Kate Winslet and HBO is a match made in heaven. When you add the fact that it’s also a crime drama, and a mystery at that, then you’ve also got something that I am extremely interested in. Mare of Easttown is a show about moving on all the while everyone in town needs you to solve mysteries of the past. It’s a show about a small town community, about family drama that is left unaddressed, and about the pressure that all of this can put on a woman — Mare Sheehan (played by Kate Winslet) — in charge of keeping the town safe, while her family is breaking down or leaving home.

Although the subplot involving Mare’s daughter leaves a lot to be desired, the family drama (and the romance subplot) is very engaging precisely because it is interwoven with the limites series’ central mystery. The show revolves around the murder of a single mother, as well as the fact that another young woman has been missing for about a year. The idea of having such a close knit community be the center of all of this drama leads to a lot of really gripping scenes especially because everyone just knows everyone. So if you name a suspect, then that suspect may be Mare’s neighbor, her cousin, or the child of an old classmate of hers.

Kate Winslet’s performance is marvelous in large part due to the fact that even though she is a star, she frankly disappears into the role. She becomes Mare and takes on all of her difficult attributes. But Mare is also surprisingly vulnerable, and the role asks a lot of Winslet, who is, of course, more than up for the task at hand. The other performance that I want to highlight is the one given by Evan Peters — who is having quite a year with his performances in both Mare of Easttown and WandaVision — and his performance as Detective Colin Zabel is probably my favorite of his ever. More than anything he is just a good guy, but he is also the straight man to Mare’s sometimes quite questionable behavior. The best episode of the show is ‘Illusions,’ in which Peters especially shines, and, in this episode, the show at one point basically becomes The Silence of the Lambs. I think this is already one of the best shows of the year, and, if nothing else, it was certainly one of the ‘water cooler’ shows of 2021.

The Crown | Season Four | Created by Peter Morgan | Release Year: 2020 | Season Length: 10 Episodes | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.

Truth be told, I’ve been meaning to review the fourth season of The Crown for very, very long, but time just flew by before I really felt ready to review it. And now here we are. Better late than never, right? In any case, I’m here to finally reveal how I feel about this very sad season of The Crown. The season takes us through Margaret Thatcher’s entire time as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However, even though the show is about Queen Elizabeth II (still played by Olivia Colman) and even though Margaret Thatcher (played by Gillian Anderson) is an important individual in history, their story takes a backseat in a way. Queen Elizabeth II and Thatcher operate mostly in the B plot.

Instead, it is the blossoming romance and rocky marriage of Prince Charles (played by Josh O’Connor) and Princess Diana Spencer (played by Emma Corrin) that is the most notable storyline for the fourth season of The Crown, and when you know how their relationship ends, it is actually quite upsetting to watch this season. The thing that I was a little bit worried about with this season was whether or not they would actually treat this story in a too careful and sanitized way that did not allow for any criticism of the family which the show is inherently about. I had nothing to be worried about, though. Because this season is extremely critical of the royal family, their parenting skills, their relationships, and, especially, of Prince Charles. Now, the season has also been criticized for being inaccurate, and it has been especially criticized by friends of the royal family, which makes me unsure of whether they are more upset about the fact that some things had to be fictionalized or whether the show simply touched a nerve by perhaps being more true than we realize. We may never know if it is one or the other, but, in any case, it makes for great television.

The show captures exactly that feeling of how the entire world fell for Diana, and it also succeeds in putting the spotlight on the insecurities of the Prince. Emma Corrin, though a relative newcomer, delivers a potentially star-making performance here, and Josh O’Connor is also just exceptional as a character who is at times rather infuriating this season. In what I refer to as the ‘B-plot’ of the season, I thought Gillian Anderson gave a solid performance as Thatcher, but I’m frankly still surprised by how much of a backseat her and Olivia Colman’s character seem to take at times this season. I think Colman is at her best in the fifth episode of the season, which centers on the Michael Fagan-incident.

All in all, the fourth season of The Crown was consistently great — and predictably so — and I thought it was a bold but effective choice to focus so much on O’Connor and Corrin, whose performances are what I will remember this season for.

Normal People | Limited Series | Created by Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Lenny Abrahamson, and Hettie Macdonald | Release Year: 2020 | Season Length: 12 Episodes | Seen on: HBO Nordic | Recommended?: Yes.

A couple of months ago, I decided that it was finally time to watch a show that I had heard so many good things about, but which I had also just brushed to the side. “You can’t watch everything,” I had told myself, and Normal People seemed destined to be a show I skipped. That would’ve been a huge mistake, because Normal People ended up being one of my favorite television shows of 2020.

It is a show that follows Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), an outspoken young woman from an affluent family whose attitude makes her a bit of a loner in school, and Connell (played by Paul Mescal), an athletic and popular young man who is, however, surprisingly quiet. Over the course of the series’ twelve episodes, we see them grow gloser and develop a complex relationship that changes dramatically as they become adults.

I greatly admire the way Rooney, Birch, Abrahamson, and Macdonald told this story of great intimacy with relative newcomers such as Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, who both delivered heartbreaking, intimate, and nuanced performances. Their chemistry was easy to fall for, and I was just in awe of how their relatable journey into adulthood was communicated, as the characters almost became different people at different institutions, and how they struggled to recognise themselves in new surroundings.

It is relatable, it is disarming, it is intimate, and it is so much more than I ever thought it would be. I really think that the character growth is extraordinarily communicated, as we see one character learn to make decisions for themselves, not relying on others, while another — who takes part in an absolutely brilliant therapy scene — slowly learns to communicate his own feelings (some of which he also desperately struggles with), as university and his romantic relationship helps him to build upon his emotional articulation.

This is just a breathtaking show about people of different genders, degrees of popularity, and familial backgrounds going from young adulthood into actual adulthood and learning from challenging experiences all the while struggling with social interaction, as they eventually embrace digital communication. I know this isn’t a historical drama, I know this doesn’t feature dragons and white walkers, and I know it isn’t a crime thriller, but, make no mistake, this is the kind of must-watch television that sticks with you.

– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

4 thoughts on “Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Summer ’21: ‘Mare of Easttown,’ ‘Cruella,’ and More

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.