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
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Cinema Dispatch: Yesterday

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Yesterday and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle

This may be a movie about music from fifty years ago, yet the premise is even older than that as the idea of a hapless someone getting a shortcut to fame and fortune is one of the most basic cornerstones of literature.  When you take that premise and make it about something other than say measurable wealth and status (i.e. Aladdin) to instead focus on some sort of perceived skill or art form (i.e. music), you can run into a few issues; namely that you have to sell the audience on the perceived greatness of something that is rather subjective.  You either have to play into the impossibility of someone ACTUALLY making the greatest music ever like with Tenacious D’s Tribute or even Fish Story, or your stuck trying to write it yourself and just ignore the disconnect (*cough* Harsh Mistress *cough*).  The workaround for all that though is what we’ve got here which is a jukebox musical of sorts where the songs being played are widely considered (at least somewhat) to be the greatest of all time, and in this era where Musical Biopics are now in vogue, it was probably the best way for yet another Beatles tribute to stand out among the crowd.  So then!  Does this movie manage to capture the magic of that one band from Liverpool, or will this be a bigger stain on their legacy than Magical Mystery Tour THE MOVIE?  Let’s find out!!

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is the typical struggling artist who spends his time stocking store shelves between gigs that no one bothers to see.  His manager and best friend Ellie (Lily James) still believes in him and his amazing songwriting skills, but if it hasn’t happened yet then it probably isn’t going to happen and so he decides that now is the time to hang it up.  The universe on the other hand has other plans for him because as he’s riding home on his bike that night, there’s a global power outage that no one ever finds an explanation for but did lead to Jack getting hit with a bus; breaking his guitar, his front teeth, and his spirit even more.  After a lengthy recovery though, he soon realizes that no one remembers who The Beatles or any of their amazing songs.  You know, songs like Yesterday, A Hard Day’s Night, and… others.  Okay, so there were A LOT of songs, but Jack can surely remember enough of them to finally have a chance to be the musical star he’s always wanted to be!  I mean these songs are culturally important and should exist in some form for the betterment of mankind, so Jack is practically doing a public service here, right!?  So that’s what Jack does as he starts recording classic tracks like I Want to Hold Your Hand and Let it Be (seemingly unconcerned with the arc the band took in their music) as well as songs like Back in the USSR which sounds a bit retro now, but still jams!  It takes a bit of time, but he does eventually start to get a following and it seems like all that success is just around the corner if he can just stick it out through the hardships and machinations of the music industry, but with so much changing so quickly and his loved ones seeming to get further and further away from him, is this truly what Jack wants now?  On top of that, if HE remembers who The Beatles are then there has to be other’s out there too, right?  Can he keep up the lies before this house of cards comes crumbling down, or will everyone be cool with it since no one knows who the fudge John Paul George and Ringo are anyway?  Most importantly, is he gonna get a mediocre Hanna-Barbera cartoon as well!?

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Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Yesterday”