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: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

I really didn’t want to see this movie.  In fact, if ANYTHING else had bothered to come out this weekend I would have seen that instead, but nope!  Everyone had to make way for this film so I guess I have to try and be professional!  I don’t know, with everything we’ve heard about Tarantino recently it’s just hard for me to get excited to see his movie’s again; let alone support a new one.  Cancelled or not, I just personally feel very much deflated thinking about him and going to see his latest movie just felt like even more of a somber experience.  Still, while acknowledging the very real and very important context of the artist behind the art, is there a good movie to be found here?  I guess we might as well find out…

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an actor struggling to find steady work in the hectic world of late sixties Hollywood after a rather unsuccessful string of movies following a decent television career playing the lead role on a western.  His stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) has stuck with Rick all this time since he’s had trouble finding work elsewhere and seems to have accepted his lot in life even if he’s basically Rick’s assistant at this point.  Fortunately for Rick, he’s got a decent gig lined up playing the bad guy in some TV pilot which will hopefully get him some attention (otherwise he’ll end up doing Spaghetti Westerns which I guess weren’t good things to be in at the time) and this also means that Cliff has the day to himself which he uses to pick up a hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) who wants to introduce him to her buddy Charlie who’s got a bunch of followers out in the desert.  Oh, and on top of that Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is Rick’s next door neighbor, and she’s doing stuff as well like… seeing movies and dancing around the house.  Can Rick nail this latest role that may be his last chance to stay relevant?  What will Cliff find at the compound the hitchhiker is taking him too, and will he be able to leave if things get out of hand?  Is it just me, or is Tarantino trying a bit too hard here?  Or perhaps not hard enough?

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“Do you want me to say ‘Nazi scalps’ yet?”     “No, we’re not doing that again.”     “Really?”     “…Okay, let’s not rule it out completely.”

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Cinema Dispatch: Robin Hood

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Robin Hood and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Otto Bathurst

Oh BOY is this gonna be a good one!  Can’t you just feel it!?  The trailers have looked awful, no one is talking about this and if they are it’s not in a positive light, and they’re just dumping this against a huge nostalgic franchise on Thanksgiving!  Lionsgate clearly believes they have a bomb on their hands here and from everything they’ve deigned to show us I can’t entirely disagree, but  then there are a lot of movies that didn’t have the full confidence of their studio yet still turned out great, from my beloved Jupiter Ascending to even the cult classic Donnie Darko!  Will this be another example of a good movie stuck with bad marketing and a poorly timed release date?  Yeah, probably not, but let’s find out!!

Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) is some rich punk in the town of Nottingham who meets her true love Marion (Eve Hewson) trying to steal a horse from him.  Eh, he’s rich.  Possessions are utterly meaningless to him anyway.  They’re have a whirlwind romance through montage which is abruptly brought to an end when it turns out that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) has drafted him to join the crusades.  Okay… I thought the armies retaking the Holy Land were volunteers, but I guess if the Sheriff of Nottingham wanted Robin out of the city that he could pull some strings and force him into service.  Wait, why does the Sheriff of Nottingham want him gone?  Oh whatever.  During his military service he manages to be THE BEST SOLIDER EVER but also TOO SWEET to survive in such a place, so after trying to save a captured POW from being executed, he’s non-fatally shot by his CO and sent back to England.  Surprise for Robin though, the father of the POW who he tried to save stowed away and wants to use him to take down the oppressive system in Nottingham, and after a pretty racist joke about foreigners having WACKY names, he starts going by the name John (Jamie Foxx).  It doesn’t take much to convince Robin to join this fight since The Sheriff literally stripped away every last valuable from his home (including his parents I assume) as well as punched a bunch of holes in the walls, and on top of that Marion was told that he had died and is now married to some dude named Will (Jamie Dornan).  With all this rich white boy angst, Robin begins to steal from the rich and give to the poor which soon earns his alter ego a nickname; THE HOOD!  Will Robin and John manage to smash Medieval Capitalism (which I guess is Serfdom here?) and create a socialist Utopia in the heart of thirteenth century England!?  What is The Sheriff’s REAL beef with him and the people of this town, and is he planning something more sinister than just taking all their stuff?  Is it just me, or is a lot of this sounding very familiar!?

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“OH MY GOD!  ARE YOU GREEN ARROW!?”

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Cinema Dispatch: The Revenant

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

Directed by  Alejandro González Iñárritu

Huh.  When you think about it, Iñárritu is kind of doing the same thing here that he did with Birdman.  Take an actor who’s known for something specific, and really dig into that a subtext of the movie.  For Birdman, it was about Michael Keaton trying to stay relevant as a genuine artist yet really only being known for his (in a certain perspective) more shallow performances.  Here, it’s almost like a metaphor for Leonardo DiCaprio’s continued struggle to win that fucking Oscar, taking on challenging role after challenging role yet never getting quite what he deserves.  That really does fit into this story about braving the elements in a quest for revenge that we can all pretty much assume doesn’t give him the satisfaction and validation that his character is so desperately seeking.  Still, does the movie itself manage to be entertaining in the same way Birdman was while still giving us some really interesting nuances to the story?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his struggles to get back to civilization after being left for dead by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who also killed his son Hawk Glass (Forrest Goodluck).  During a hunting expedition led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) the party was raided by a contingent of Native American Warriors and only a couple of them (including Hugh, John, Hawk, and Andrew) make it out alive.  Because Hugh is the guy with the tragic backstory involving his Native American wife, he’s easily the best tracker in the group and so knows how to avoid the tribe while also finding the safest route through the mountains, though John doesn’t really trust him or his son due to almost getting scalped by Native Americans a while ago.  Unfortunately for the party, Hugh gets the shit kicked out of him by a Grizzly Bear and is nearly dead after the encounter.  The party tries to carry him along, but the strain becomes too great and he’s left with a couple men (Hawk, John, and one other dude Bridger played by Will Poulter) so that he can… die peacefully?  I don’t know, but things don’t go as planned as the already suspicious John decides to kill off Hugh and ends up killing Hawk in the process… yet doesn’t feel the need to finish off Hugh I guess.  Anyway, John convinces Bridger to leave and so Hugh is left for dead.  That ain’t about to stop Leonardo DiCaprio though, as he crawls out of his shallow grave, and makes his way back to home base to kick Tom Hardy square in the teeth!  Can he survive the stark and desolate countryside long enough to get his revenge!?  More importantly, can Leo finally win his god damn Oscar!?

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“Hey man, I heard Sean Penn left his Best Actor award down there.”     “IT’S MIIIIIIIIIINE!!!!!!”

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