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: The Goldfinch

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The Goldfinch and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by John Crowley

So based on the trailers, this has to do with a heist gone wrong to steal a painting?  Or maybe the kid knocked it off the wall which triggered a series of Rube Goldberg zaniness that led to the museum exploding?  Okay, it’s probably not going to be THAT wacky considering the solemnity with which the trailers show the main character struggling with his guilt for… something, but apparently this is based on a book and I haven’t read it yet.  Thankfully BASED ON THE BEST SELLING NOVEL doesn’t send a chill of dread down my spine the same way BASED ON A TRUE STORY does since a book is already supposed to have a beginning, middle, and end unlike someone’s life normally does, but I might be a bit out of my depth here because I hadn’t even HEARD of the freaking thing before the trailers started to come out and it clearly looks to be pure Oscar Bait, but I’ve seen enough of these kind of movies by now to hopefully tell a good one from a bad one.  Then again, I was bored senseless in The Phantom Thread, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about in the first place.  Is this the kind of awards contender that’ll appeal to all audiences instead of the very few who will be voting on said awards this year, or is all the pretense simply there to prop up a mediocre slog?  Let’s find out!!

Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort and Oakes Fegley) hasn’t had the best like in his short thirteen years so far.  He got blamed for smoking at school, his dad left his mom several months ago, and oh yeah his mother died in some sort of terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  He manages to survive somehow, but with nowhere else to go he ends up living with a school friend’s family which is led by the regal Samantha Barbour (Nicole Kidman) who seems sympathy towards Theo but not much more than that.  He eventually finds someone to open up to about the incident when he finds the partner of a man who died in the explosion along with the man’s granddaughter Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings and Aimee Laurence) who DID survive the explosion but suffered some serious trauma because of it.  Theo and his new friend Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) do manage to lean on each other somewhat to deal with their grief, but at some point Theo’s crappy dad Larry (Luke Wilson) comes back to take him away to Arizona with his younger girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) where he meets a kid named Boris (Aneurin Barnard and Finn Wolfhard) who he soon becomes friends with as well.  The movie goes between flashbacks to his childhood and the life he has today which seems to be rather miserable and it becomes clearer and clearer why as we learn more about his past; the continued trauma he had to go through even after his mother’s death as well as the brief moments of joy he managed to find despite his lousy circumstances.  Oh, and there was this painting that Theo took from the museum for some reason after the explosion, but I’m sure that’s not too important.  It had a bird on it I think.  Will Theo find peace in his life after having to suffer so much?  Is there anything in his fractured past that will hold the answer to him coming to terms with what happened to him and maybe some serendipitous turn of events will finally bring him the closure he needs?  Seriously, what does he need that bird picture for in the first place?  I mean it’s fine, but it’s no Rembrandt or Jim Davis.

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“Oh Garfield!  You truly capture the pain in my soul with your utter loathing of Mondays!”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: The Goldfinch”