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: Ready Player One

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Ready Player One and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Oh!  Do I finally get a chance to see this darn movie!?  I swear; it feels like EVERY OTHER CRITIC IN THE WORLD got an invite to an early premiere of this while I’m sitting over here waiting for its ACTUAL release date like a total chump!  Now I haven’t read the book so I won’t be going into this with much in terms of expectations, but the premise is on that could really get out of hand quickly if it’s not in the hands of the right director.  Just imagine how bad Scott Pilgrim would have been if it wasn’t in the hands of Edgar Wright, or if say Adam Sandler somehow managed to make a movie about classic video games attacking us in the real world.  GOOD THING THAT NEVER HAPPENED, AM I RIGHT!?  Was Steven Spielberg the right one to adapt this material, or will this be a larger misstep for the venerable director than The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Let’s find out!!

The movie takes place in the year 2045 where society hasn’t really COLLAPSED, so much as it’s gotten really apathetic and there’s a whole bunch of trash everywhere.  For most people, they’re way of dealing with it is to go into the most EXPANSIVE AND BAD ASS online video game ever made (right after Second Life) called THE OASIS!  One such denizen of this virtual world is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who lives in one of the slums of Columbus Ohio (they literally just started stacking trailer homes on top of each other) but he has big dreams for the future that will get him out of his boring miserable life!  Okay, it mostly involves playing games in THE OASIS as his in-game character Parzival, but that’s proving to be more and more of a viable career path; provided he doesn’t start shouting racial slurs.  Like in real life though, he’s kind of stuck at the lower tier of THE OASIS hierarchy and spends most of his time either hanging out with his friend Aech (Lena Waithe) or re-reading the history of the inventor of THE OASIS James Halliday (Mark Rylance) who died about a decade ago.  Said creator by the way has stuck three hidden keys within the game that if found will get TOTAL control of his Chocolate Factory… I mean software company, but no one has been able to find even one of them so far; not even the EVIL corporation called Innovative Online Industries (IOI) which is head up by the EVIL Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) that plan to do EVIL things if they get control of the company!  So Wade/Parzival is just going along his day to day routine… that is until he meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) who is one of the top players in the game, and their chance encounter ALSO leads to him figuring out the first clue that James Halliday left behind which leads him directly to the first key!  Now the guy is on EVERYONE’S radar!  Art3mis is trying to find the keys for herself and wants Parzival’s help doing it, Aech is stoked that they get all the cool gear that comes with finding that first key, and of course the EVIL IOI is after him to either convince him to join them or DESTROY HIM UTTERLY!  Will Wade be able to resist the allures of corporate culture and embark on this noble quest to honor the memory of the greatest game developer of all time?  What reasons could Art3mis have for needing to find the keys, and does it have anything to do with IOI’s EVIL schemes?  Will Wade get the validation in the virtual world that he so desperate craves in his own life!?  THAT’S HOW THIS WORKS, RIGHT!?

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“You are the one!”     “YEAH!!“     “Now just pay $4.99 to see the TRUE ending.”     “WHAT!?”

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Cinema Dispatch: Dunkirk

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Dunkirk and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros

Directed by Christopher Nolan

I never got around to seeing Interstellar despite having the blu ray somewhere around here, so my last Christopher Nolan film was The Dark Knight Rises (a film that I’m not particularly fond off) which came even longer ago than Green Lantern.  We’ve had an entire DCCU build up in the dude’s wake since I’ve last seen one his movies, and he’s coming back to theaters with the most classic of prestige genres; the World War II epic!  Hey, it worked for Spielberg!  Twice in fact!  Even if I wasn’t a huge fan of his last Batman movie (and from what I hear, most people were rather put off by Interstellar), I’m still glad to see this guy continue to make films, and while it’s a bit of cliché now for RESPECTABLE film makers to make a film about how much Nazis suck, I’m sure the guy is more than capable of putting his own spin on it that will make the movie a standout of the year!  Does Nolan return with a decisive victory, or is this a tortuous war of attrition?  Let’s find out!!

So the movie is about the Dunkirk Evacuation where a whole bunch of Allied soldiers were trying to escape from France as it was slowly being overtaken by the Nazis.  Their only hope is to get a whole bunch of boats to France, load them all up, and ferry them across the English Channel to safety, but of course it’s not as easy as that considering how many submarines and airplanes the Nazis have in the area.  Things get so desperate that Churchill eventually calls for English citizens with boats to become volunteers and try to make the dangerous trek across the Channel to pick up however many soldiers they can carry; hoping the Nazis will ignore them for being civilian ships.  In the movie, we’ve got Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) on the beach with everyone else waiting for the boats, Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) as one of the boaters taking his yacht along with his son and a local boy (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan) to help the war effort, and a Royal Air Force pilot (Tom Hardy) doing what he can to keep the skies clear despite being rather low on fuel.  Will our heroes manage to make it out of this evacuation alive?  Does Christopher Nolan manage to capture the magnitude of this historical event through his spectacular technical chops?  If they needed a ride so badly, why didn’t they just call Uber!?  Wait, do they have Uber for boats yet?

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“Does anybody know any good knock-knock jokes?”     “Knock Knock.”     “Who’s there?”     “Shut up.”

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Cinema Dispatch: The BFG

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

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The fact that Spielberg hasn’t made a Roald Dahl film up to now seems like either an oversight.  That or maybe the guy thought that it would have been too obvious for the reigning king of cinematic wonder to adapt a story from one of the best children’s book authors of all time.  If you think about it, the really good Dahl adaptations come from unconventional places, whether it’s Mel Stuart who’s known for Willy Wonka and basically nothing else outside of television, Henry Selick who’s only done four movies in over twenty years (one of which is James and the Giant Peach and another is Monkeybone), and even Matilda which was directed by Danny DeVito of all people; a director known for The War of the Roses where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner kill each other over spite, and Death to Smoochy which had Ed Norton in an awful Barney suit.  The most mainstream examples I can think of would be Fantastic Mister Fox from Wes Anderson and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from Tim Burton, the former proving my point as the most mainstream we can get for good Dahl is Wes Anderson and the latter probably being the worst Dahl adaptation pretty much BECAUSE of how Hollywood it was.  Now the biggest director of all time is stepping up to the plate to adapt one of Dahl’s books that has yet to have a major film adaptation, though there was an animated one that no one really cares about.  Can Spielberg work his magic yet again for material that seems perfectly suited for him, or will the magic of Dahl’s work be lost when adapted under the Disney umbrella?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows a young orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who suffers from Insomnia… I think, and she stays up late enough one night to see a giant roaming the streets of her town.  Sophie tries to return to her bed but unfortunately it’s too close to the window and the giant kidnaps her to take back to his home in Giant Country which doesn’t seem too hard to get to as the secret portal or whatever is just off the northern coast of Scotland.  The giant is played by Mark Rylance (who will at some point be known as BFG which does NOT stand for what you think it does) and tells Sophie that he plans to keep her there so that she doesn’t blab to the world about the existence of giants.  Now normally this would be the setup for a horror movie, but BFG turns out to be a vegetarian which means she’s safe from being eaten, and that the giant is actually super sweet which makes this situation more like an adoption without that pesky paperwork.  Now of course the movie isn’t just about these two hanging out together as the main conflict arises when we discover that not only is BFG a rather small giant, but that the other giants are total pricks who like to eat children and bully and the kind old man for reasons that I’m sure make sense to the giants.  Can Sophie come up with a way to stop the other giants from picking on BFG?  Will the other giants discover that BFG has a human around which will set them off on a rampage?  Wait, why is BFG responsible for people having dreams?  Seriously, what does that have to do with anything!?

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“What is that dream about?”     “Eh… I’ll tell you when your older.”

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Cinema Dispatch: Bridge of Spies

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Bridge of Spies and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox

Directed by Steven Spielberg

We’re well into the Oscar season by this point, but now it’s time for the BIG guns to strut their stuff, and you can’t get any bigger the Steven Spielberg!!  It also seems that he’s found a niche that he’s starting to get comfortable with considering this is his second historical film based on a bunch of lawyers and politicians arguing during a very contentious time in our country’s history.  Does Spielberg remind us once again why he’s one of Hollywood’s greatest living directors, or will this be one of those lesser films he makes that we’ll all forget about as soon as his next film is made?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins in 1957 with the arrest of Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and the media storm that surrounded it.  When it comes time to actually try the bastard, the US government hires a law firm to represent Rudolf so that at least it can APPEAR to be a legit trial instead of a kangaroo court.  Unfortunately for everyone, the man the law firm assigns to the case is James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) who actually believes in the constitution and won’t just let the legal system run all over this guy.  For doing the right thing, he ends up drawing unwanted attention from hot heads looking to see some Soviet scumbag hang as well as the ire of the FBI who want him to tell them everything that Rudolph has said in their meetings which would obviously be a breach of attorney client privilege.  While this is going on, we occasionally cut to Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stonewall) who is a US solider training to be a spy and will one day fly a stealth plane of USSR territories to take covert pictures.  Will fate conspire to put him in a similar situation as Rudolph Abel finds himself now?  What kinds of consequences will James incur for himself, his law firm, and his family for simply believing in and fighting for what the constitution guarantees?  Just how many awards will Spielberg win for directing a period piece political thriller starring Tom Hanks!?  Like… fifty?

“I’m willing to talk Mr. Spielberg down to forty-eight, but you need to guarantee us best picture first.”
“I’m willing to talk Mr. Spielberg down to forty-eight, but you need to guarantee us best picture first.”

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