Cinema Dispatch: 2021 Catch Up (Part 1)

Well it’s certainly been a while since I had to do one of these!  The ramp-up of the Omicron virus, the busy schedule of the Holiday season, and the fact that I lost power for almost a week right at the start of January meant that I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to before the year was up and I felt that my viewing history was a bit wanting.  Without at least trying to catch up on some of the big movies of the year, is it even worth putting together a top ten list or try to give some sort of critical evaluation of that year in movies?  Well… yes, I mean I always fall short of my movie-watching goal at the end of each year, but 2021 felt especially undermined by everything that happened, so we’ll be doing a few of these catch-ups to try and fill in some of those gaps!  Let’s get started!!

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Spencer

Spencer and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon

Directed by Pablo Larrain

The Royal Family gathers together for Christmas, but Diana (Kristen Stewart) has been struggling in recent years to keep up a brave face in the presence of her extended family; especially since the rules and traditions of the Royal Family are not the easiest thing to adhere to, even for someone in the best of mental health.  Her husband Charles (Jack Farthing) is fed up with her change in behavior, and while her sons (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry) are much more sympathetic, even they have trouble reconciling this rift between their mother and the rest of the family.  Will Diana be able to continue on like this, or will this be the Christmas that changes everything?

Every once in a while I’ll see a movie that I should like a lot more than I actually do.  I can see how they approach interesting themes with a great deal of substance and depth, I can tell that the cinematography is very well done while also reinforcing the themes, and I can appreciate the acting as well as the dialogue in the script.  Yet even with all these elements working together, I’m left rather nonplussed; engaging with it on an intellectual level but just not feeling enough passion or excitement to walk away satisfied.  To elaborate on the film’s strengths, we have an excellent performance from Kristin Stewart who has to carry this movie on her shoulders, the overwhelming weight of the literal crown on her head is palpable in the way that she carries herself and how she reacts to situations around her.  The idea of feeling sorry for someone who is literally royalty is not exactly an easy feat, especially with wealth inequality and unrepresentative government indifference being such hot button issues these days, but it makes several smart choices with its narrative and style that it keeps those real-world implications from getting in the way of this one character’s story.  It’s uncomfortable and deeply saddening at points with the machinery of the Monarchy proving impenetrable (no one thing can be blamed for each and every stuffy decision and all the soulless pieces of it perfectly fit to reinforce each other), but it also finds catharsis in Diana’s struggle for freedom and peace and never gets so dark as to be an unbearable tour of misery.  Still, despite all these strong elements to the movie, I still felt detached from it all; so what about it is keeping me at bay?  Well, I think the answer is in what I just said, which is a feeling of detachment.  I don’t know the first thing about Princess Diana other than she died at some point while I was still in kindergarten, and the movie is in no particular hurry to provide answers to that question.  To the script’s credit, they do provide enough context and details for this particular character to work (meaning they could easily have swapped her out for a fictional character in a made-up kingdom) but the script turns out to be a doubled-edged sword as it does a lot more telling than it does showing.  We understand Diana’s ennui and how she is reacting to everything around her, but I still felt like I was observing her from afar instead of getting inside of her head.  This may also just be a flaw on my part, being rather unintuitive or perhaps a bit callous, but the lack of context also left me unclear as to what actual consequences there would be if she just stopped playing along, and the big dramatic ending of the movie kind of loses something when you realize that Diana isn’t actually risking or giving up anything to get to where she needs to go.  Sure, there’s the shame and disdain of her royal family that burrows deep into her psyche and are perhaps just as effective chains around her as the threat of genuine consequences would be, but it definitely feels like a critical piece of the puzzle is missing here.  On top of that, the movie is very sparse with long shots of mundane action and a very straightforward score.  None of it is bad per se, but there’s not a lot to perk your interest as far as spectacle; not in the sense of explosions or CG monsters, but I doubt it would have been too out of place for some dynamic camerawork or even some creative editing.  This means the movie relies almost entirely on its script and performances which, once again are very good, but to me, a movie about someone’s psychological issues should use all the tools at the filmmaker’s disposal and it never seems to want to go past a certain level of offbeat imagination.  I’m still gonna give this a recommendation if for no other reason than Stewart’s deeply heartbreaking performance, but it hews a bit too close to the cliché of the stuffy –drawing-room film than I would have expected from the studio that gave us I, Tonya.  Perhaps expecting that level of creative verve would have been inappropriate for a movie whose themes are about the stifling conformity of the aristocracy (especially one that’s ostensibly based on real people), but a few more flourishes here and there wouldn’t have hurt!

3 out of 5
Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: 2021 Catch Up (Part 1)”

Cinema Dispatch: Daddy’s Home

DHCD0

Daddy’s Home and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Sean Anders

While Adam McKay is trying to branch out with The Big Short, his longtime collaborator Will Ferrell seems to be doing the same thing he’s been doing since Bush was in the White House.  You could make the comparisons between him and Adam Sandler, but honestly I still find the guy funny and despite always going back to the man-child well, he’s still willing to branch out every once in a while with films Like Everything Must Go and even The LEGO Movie where he actually got to make an honest statement about the people he has so often portrayed in film.  This one though doesn’t look to be all that challenging for him or his audience, but it can still be funny, right?  They’ve got Mark Wahlberg in there, and he’s proven himself to be hilarious in other movies.  Will this be the perfect comedy to end 2015 on, or is this going to be one more reason we can’t wait to see the year end?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is about Will Ferrell playing some guy who’s a step dad and Marky Mark from the Funky Bunch playing the biological father of the family Will Ferrell married into.  Will Ferrell has spent the last year or so trying desperately to connect with his new step children and it finally seems like they’re starting to accept him when Marky Mark calls up and says he’s coming over to visit.  Misunderstands and double talk then ensue which somehow leads to Marky Mark staying in the garage of their new house and he spends most of the film trying to undercut Will Ferrell and win back his family that he abandoned many years ago.   Seems like a tough sell, but it turns out that the kids have mythologized him and he’s also a real MAN’S MAN so who couldn’t fall in love with that, am I right?  Can Will Ferrell prove his manly dad-ness enough to convince his wife to NOT abandon him (which really seems like an unlikely scenario), or will Marky Mark get his way long enough to get bored with his family again and leave them twisting in the wind?  Can this AT LEAST be better than The Other Guys?  Please?

DHCD1
“Are you sure this is gonna work?”     “Oh yeah!  Definitely!”     “Let me rephrase that.  Are you sure this is going to work FOR ME?”     “Oh… Uh, no.  Not even a little.”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Daddy’s Home”