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!!

.

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: Justice League v Justice League – Dawn of Judgement

Justice League 2017 & Justice League 2021 as well as all the images you see are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Both films directed by Zack Snyder

I can’t say I was ever looking forward to this day as I was one of the people who actually LIKED the original cut of Justice League and then spent the last four years seeing people opine (and worse) for a movie that they already got; not to mention the awful news that broke about how the reshoots went for Ray Fisher.  Still, Warner Bros is looking for ANY sort of cash cow to make their HBO Max service a success, so they threw a bunch of money at Zack Snyder and company to make an extended version of the movie they already made and feed into the LOST SNYDER CUT narrative that has been stuck with us for so long.  Now that the movie is finally out, was it worth all the hype and can it possibly justify the ridiculous over the top actions its most ardent supporters took?  Well obviously not, but instead of just doing a straight up review as the films are very similar in a lot of ways, I think it’d be much more interesting to take a look at what this new version gets right as well as where it falls short of the original cut.  Let’s get started, and beware of Spoilers ahead!!

.

Something Good: The colors make more sense

The drastic change in pallets between the early trailers and the later ones was a definite sign that things were changing significantly and a lot of scenes in the movie ended up suffering for it.  Batman in particular always looked like an overstuffed sausage in bat-pants stuffed with pudding (which isn’t COMPLETELY gone but is much less prominent now), and there was a garishness to certain scenes where they pushed the colors up just a little bit too high.  The corrections here definitely fit more with what was being filmed and the pallet fits well with the new tone of the movie.

.

Something Bad: The colors are more boring

And yet I just couldn’t get behind it.  Sure the colors didn’t always WORK, but for the most part they were bright and colorful which added a much needed cheeriness to a franchise that until then was stuck in its own morose grander.  Thankfully later movies like Shazam, Aquaman, and arguably even Wonder Woman 1984 built a brighter look from the ground up and the aesthetic fits better with those movies, but going back to this kind of look after those films is just deflating; even if it’s more competently done.  And I’m also going to throw this in here, I just don’t get why they insisted on using an IMAX aspect ratio for a moving going to a streaming service.  It’s distracting the whole way through and I never felt like it added anything.

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Justice League v Justice League – Dawn of Judgement”

Cinema Dispatch: Frozen 2

FROZEN2CD0

Frozen 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

You know, I actually went to Disney World a month or two back and I REALLY enjoyed Epcot!  The sights, the food, the stores with lots of cool stuff in them; they even had a Frozen ride at the Nordic section of the park!  And uh… well we waited about an hour to get on it, Elsa sang at us for a bit, and then it was over.  Kind of disappointing considering how long it took to get there.  Anyway, let’s talk about this sequel to a movie from six years ago.  Is it the continuation to Elsa’s story we’ve all been waiting for, or has Disney already sucked the Frozen cash cow completely dry by the time they deigned to give us a sequel?  Let’s find out!!

Several years after the events of the first film, Queen Elsa has continued her uneventful reign as the leader of Arendelle along with her sister Anna who seems perfectly content to while away her days hanging out with the magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) as well as her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff).  Elsa on the other hand seems a bit antsier about the drudgery of daily life and even starts to hear the voice of someone calling out to her from the mystical forest which has a dark history behind it.  Apparently there was some sort of war between Arendelle and the native tribe of that forest known as the Northuldra and the magical spirits of the forest have closed themselves off from the rest of the world until humanity can get its problems straightened out.  Fortunately for Elsa (though unfortunately for Arendelle), it seems that the magic deep inside the forest is starting to seep out and is causing problems for the kingdom, so Elsa has no choice but to find out what’s going on in there and Anna has no choice but to follow her.  Oh, and Kristoff and Olaf go in there as well, but it feels like a bit more of a choice for them; unless they can only live if there’s a steady stream of screen time.  Can Elsa and Anna figure out what’s causing this surge in the magic, and what it may be trying to tell them?  What secrets from the past will they uncover during this journey, and will they be ones they want to uncover in the first place?  Seriously, is Kristoff there just because he’s got a ride?

FROZEN2CD1
“What do you think we’ll find in there?”     “DO NOT WORRY!  KRISTOFF AND HIS MIGHT STEED WILL FORGE AHEAD, ISN’T THAT RIGHT?”     …     “The mighty steed said yes.”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Frozen 2”

Cinema Dispatch: Red Sparrow

REDSPARROWCD0

Red Sparrow and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox

Directed by Francis Lawrence

What, were you expecting a review for Death Wish?  Yeah… no.  Eli Roth isn’t about to get another cent from me after the crap I went through with his LAST film, and seeing him remake an already tonally uneven film with the ham handedness that he makes all his other films is an experience I am VERY much willing to overlook and stuff down the memory hole along with everything else I’d like to forget; like Devilman Crybaby or that guy who’s occupying in the Oval Office right now where an ACTUAL President should be sitting.  So that left me with this Jennifer Lawrence starring spy thriller which… I don’t know.  The trailers didn’t really do enough to get me interested in the story, and I still have nightmares over the LAST time I saw Jennifer Lawrence star with uneasiness into a camera while contending with impending doom.  At the very least though, it won’t be as bad as Death Wish… right?  Let’s find out!!

REDSPARROWCD1
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to shoot these puppies out of a canon and straight into the sun.”     “I have a choice?”     “Sure you do!  Either follow all of my orders or I’ll burn your house down!”     “I think that’s called an ultimatum.”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Red Sparrow”

Cinema Dispatch: Justice League

JUSTICELEAGUECD0

Justice League and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Zack Snyder

So… it’s not like anyone is looking forward to this movie and is willing to yell at critics over it, right!?  Sigh… now my opinions on Batman v Superman have been made quite clear on multiple occasions, but you know… with Wonder Woman and to a very VERY lesser extent Suicide Squad, I don’t think these films aren’t worth seeing.  Heck, even Batman v Superman is worth seeing in the sense that there’s so much to learn about NOT making a good movie from it!  I am absolutely not looking forward to this movie and I don’t expect it to be all that good, but I’m going to sit in my seat, watch all the crappy local car commercials, and then hope that I’m not just completely wasting my time and money being there.  I The fact that I’m expecting this to be bad is not the same as WANTING it to be bad or HOPING for it to be bad just to get some “outrage clickbait” out of it, because I don’t need any MORE things in my life to piss me off even if I get a hilarious and insightful review out of it.  I’d rather write hilarious and insightful review of GOOD movies!  So then… does Warner Bros and DC have what it takes to keep this franchise afloat after Wonder Woman became an critical and box office smash, or are we stuck with more of the same crap until these DCCU films stop making money for them?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins sometime after the events of Batman v Superman where (SPOILER ALERT!) the world is still reeling over the DEATH OF SUPERMAN!  Everyone’s moody, crime is on the rise, and to top things off, aliens have started invading Earth!  Yeah, that whole dream sequence with the Parademons in the last movie?  Well it’s not a full scale invasion just yet, but Batman’s swinging around Gotham City finding these space bugs all over the place and needs to figure out what the heck is going on!  Well it doesn’t take long for the TRUE threat to reveal himself as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who, now that Superman is deader than disco, feels confident enough to stage an all-out attack on Earth… for some reason.  I mean I GUESS he tried to take over the planet back when it was Middle Earth and Amazons, Green Lanterns, and I THINK Shazzam were able to stop him, so maybe he’s after this planet for revenge or something.  IT DOESN’T MATTER THOUGH!  What matters is that he’s gonna tear shit up and the world needs its most powerful champions to fight against him which includes the aforementioned Batman, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jasson Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).  Will the Justice League be able to put aside their differences and come together (right now!) in order to stop the greatest threat humanity has ever faced?  Just what is Steppenwolf’s master plan, and what other forces are in play that these mere mortals are only seeing the briefest glimpse of?  How much more leeway will we have to give WB just to make sure we keep getting Wonder Woman movies!?

JUSTICELEAGUECD1
“For Justice!  For the Greater Good!  FOR BOX OFFICE VIABILITY!!”     “MY MAN!!”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Justice League”