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 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
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Cinema Dispatch: Ocean’s 8

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Ocean’s 8 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Gary Ross

I’ve never had much interest in the Ocean’s movies and even though I’m PRETTY sure I saw the first one, the only things I remember is George Clooney on a payphone in the beginning and everyone looking at a fountain at the end.  Needless to say that had they gotten the gang back together for Ocean’s 14, I’d have easily checked out and just went to whatever else was playing that week.  Recasting the entire thing with AMAZING actors in a sort of soft reboot though?  NOW you’ve got my attention!  Don’t always discount reboots, kids!  You’ll find one someday that’s right up your alley!  Does this latest entry in the franchise prove to be a necessary and extraordinary fresh start, or is the title the only thing worth remembering about this movie?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), who is the sister of the PRESUMABLY deceased Danny Ocean, getting out of jail on parole and IMMEDIATELY starting up her life of crime once again; scamming stores, sneaking into other people’s hotel rooms, and of course getting ready for her BIG score.  Yes, the one she’s been planning ever since she went inside and is chomping at the bit to get started on.  After all, who wants to ENJOY their freedom when they can just risk it all on a foolhardy heist!?  Speaking of hardy fools, she also reaches out to her old crime buddy Lou (Cate Blanchett) who’s been holding her own but clearly anticipating Debbie’s next big score, and the duo start to lay down the groundwork as well as scope out some new talent who can pull this whole thing off.  So what is the heist you may ask?  There’s this SUPER expensive necklace valued at about one hundred and fifty MILLION dollars that’s sitting in a vault somewhere which is such a shame because it could be going to better use, like enriching a bunch of thieves who are smart enough to figure out how to steal it!  For this to work they’ll first need a patsy to get their hands on the necklace so that they can steal it from HER, and who better to use than one of the most famous actors on Earth, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway)?  To convince Miss Kluger to use the necklace for her ensemble that evening AND THEN to steal it right off of her neck, Debbie and Lou will need a crack team made up of expert jewelery forger Amita (Mindy Kaling), street hustler Constance (Awkwafina), desperate fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), MOVIE HACKERTM Nine Ball (Rihanna) and retired fencer Tammy (Sarah Paulson).  Wait, that’s only seven.  Hmm… maybe there’s more to this plan than even WE know!  Can Debbie and her crew pull off this heist without a hitch?  What could Debbie be hiding from the rest of the team, and could the secrecy cost them everything?  Is this yet another awesome and well-made movie for the internet man-babies to cry about because there are too many ladies in it!?  Well I sure hope so!!

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“Hashtag Feminism, BRO!!”

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Cinema Dispatch: Thor: Ragnarok

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Thor: Ragnarok and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Taika Waititi

After the rather disappointing Thor: The Dark World (HOW DO YOU WASTE THE BEST DOCTOR WHO IN SUCH A BLAND VILLAIN ROLE!?) I wasn’t really looking forward to what they’d do with this character in his solo films and was more interested to see if he’d show up in a bunch of the other movies instead.  Once those initial trailers hit with the heavy emphasis on fantastical Jack Kirby inspired designs and the rocking Led Zeppelin soundtrack, there seemed to be hope in this franchise digging itself out of the pit the sequel left it in.  At the very least, it LOOKED a lot pretty with much more vibrant colors, and it even manages to drag Jeff Goldblum into the MCU which in and of itself would make this movie worthy of existing even if everything else ends up being awful.  Does Thor’s third chance at the plate end up being one of the best films in the entire MCU, or did they just throw a lot of flash and money at a franchise that is just unable to find its place after telling the origin story?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trying to find out what the heck Ragnarok is which was hinted at ALL the way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Remember when he left the team to take a bath and saw some visions?  Yeah, apparently it was all foreshadowing of the destruction of Asgard in a calamity known as Ragnarok, so Thor is basically trying to find a way to stop it… whatever it may be.  In the meantime though, he manages to find out that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken the place of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who is actually alright as Loki basically stuck his ass in a retirement home on Earth, but when Thor goes down there to bring him back to the throne it turns out that he’s all out of time and disappears in a cloud of energy or something.  If that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that one of the things he was doing when he was alive was keeping a hereto unknown daughter of his named Hela (Cate Blanchett) in some sort of magic prison which breaks as soon as he’s dead and so she’s come back for revenge against her family and all of Asgard.  Both Loki and Thor are dealt with rather quickly with the latter losing his famed hammer Mjolnir and landing on some mystery planet where he is captured by a mysterious woman (Tessa Thompson) and dragged to the planet’s ruler known as THE GRANDMASTER (Jeff Goldblum).  The once mighty God of Thunder and son of Odin is now put in chains and is forced to fight in gladiatorial matches in order to somehow earn his freedom and eventually find his way back home before Hela puts it inextricably under her vengeful thumb.  Can Thor find a way to escape the barbaric society run by the most fabulous of dictators?  What familiar faces will he find on this planet that can hopefully help him on his journey home?  How the heck is Thor gonna get around now that he doesn’t have his magic propeller hammer!?

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“THE GOD OF THUNDER DOESN’T NEED A HAMMER!  I JUST NEED TO FLAP MY ARMS REALLY FAST!!”     “Okay… well good luck with that!”

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Cinema Dispatch: 2015 Catch Up

Like any decent film critic, I’ve had a couple of movies that I promised myself I would eventually get to, but then they ended up slipping through the cracks for so long that I had given up hope on ever getting back to them.  Well no more I say!  Not only am I catching up on two movies I saw in 2015 that I never got to talk about, I have just recently had the chance to watch two other films from 2015 that are definitely worth discussing!  So without procrastinating another second, here are four movies from the past year that I now have the chance to review!!

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Rock the Kasbah and all the images you see in this review are owned by Open Road Films

Directed by Barry Levinson

Ah yes.  The one where Bill Murray saves Afghanistan.  See, THIS movie got a bit crowded out because it came to theaters the same week as Jem and the Holograms and The Last Witch Hunter.  CLEARLY I was very busy at the time writing reviews for two of the worst movies of the year and things just snowballed after that to the point that I never got my thoughts down on this movie.  It may have been the best movie of that week by a long shot, but that’s not saying a hell of a whole lot considering the not so stiff competition it was up against.  Is it any good without the direct comparison to the garbage it was surrounded by when it was at the box office?  Let’s find out!!

Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a guy who will try to get you to fall for anything, and probably believes half the bullshit that he’s spewing.  At one time he was a somewhat successful manager to some big acts, but nowadays he just hangs out in his hotel room/office scamming wannabe singers out of some cash while trying to promote one of  his clients Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) who might actually have a bit of talent if he can just get her a break.  Opportunity comes a knocking one night where a military man sees her perform and suggest that Richie take her on a USO tour in Afghanistan which is supposed to pay very well with only a slight chance of death in the process.  Richie’s all on board but Ronnie eventually reveals that she’s not into being somewhere that rough and not long after arriving in Kabul, she robs him of all his money as well as his passport; leaving him without any identification and in debt to the mercenary (Bruce Willis) who got Ronnie out of the country and was only given half his fee in the process with promises that Richie had the rest.  Will he be able to scramble up enough money to pay back the mercenary and get his ass out of the country?  Well that actually becomes pretty moot as the REAL plot involves a young woman in a nearby village named Salima Khan (Leem Lubany) who can sing like an angel but will be killed if anyone in her fundamentalist village (and almost anyone her in her fundamentalist country apparently) hears her do it.  Richie though sees fame and fortune in the story and eventually convinces her to join an American Idol like competition (Afghan Star) which has never had a female singer on before, and the rest of the movie is basically the fallout of that with Richie learning some lessons about himself along the way!

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“I co-wrote this one from Stevie Nicks back in 1990.  She didn’t like the lyrics, but we got a top 100 hit out of it.  SOMETIMES IT’S A BITCH!!  SOMETIMES IT’S A BREEZE!!!!”

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