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 Green Knight

The Green Knight and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24

Directed by David Lowery

The first trailer for this movie dropped in February of 2020 which was mere weeks before the world pretty much came to an end and movies were either shelved or released on streaming services for exorbitant prices.  I was definitely interested in seeing it as I had a vague understanding of what The Green Knight story was and seeing it realized on the big screen with such interesting visuals and an AWESOME looking design for the titular knight seemed like a slam dunk to me!  I was ready to open a spot for it on my top ten list of 2020 based on the trailer alone, but we all know what happened next, and much like Sir Gawain himself we all had to wait one year to see how it all worked out.  Was it worth holding out until we could return to theaters to release it, or was it would it have been a better idea to just toss it onto HBO Max and hope that everyone forgets it before the studio puts out their next movie?  Let’s find out!!

In the time of legends and poor hygiene, a young knight name Gawain (Dev Patel) was going about his life without much knighting to speak of.  Sure he had the title, but he spent most of his days waiting for glory and honor to come to him rather than seek it out himself.  Fortunately for him, opportunity presents itself at the King’s Christmas party where a mysterious green Knight offers anyone there a simple challenge!  Strike him once however they wish, on the condition that in one year’s time they will take the same blow from the Green Knight.  Feeling plucky and looking to prove himself, Gawain takes up the challenge and with one swift strike, chops the Green Knight’s head off!  Well so much for taking a blow next year, am I right?  Well… it looks like this will still come to pass as the Green Knight casually picks up his head and rides off into the night!  I mean it’s KINDA on Gawain to not assume some magical shenanigans were at play, but still; he has one year to make up his mind as to whether he will got to face the Green Knight at his chapel and go through with this game despite him being PRETTY sure that his own head is not so easily reattached.  Gawain seems to be willing to face his fate as he mounts a horse and starts his journey, but things are not as straightforward as they seem; not with the path ahead of him or the convictions in his own mind.  Will Gawain preserve his honor and face the Green Knight’s blade despite how unfair this all seems?  What challenges will he face along the way, and are they enough to make him waiver in his convictions?  Seriously, WHY DOES THIS GUY LOOK SO COOL!?  Maybe that’s how he gets people to fall for this; he just charms them with his rugged good looks!

Green Knight for Smash!!
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Cinema Dispatch: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

MIFCD0

Mission: Impossible – Fallout and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Is it just me, or does it feel like a REALLY long time since the last one?  I don’t remember much about Rogue Nation except that I didn’t particularly like it (mostly due to how much I DID like Ghost Protocol), but that’s all in the past!  It’s time for Ethan Hun to go on a NEW mission and prove once again that Tom Cruise is a box office draw!  Well… most of the time at least (*cough* The Mummy *cough*), but hey!  At least they brought Superman in for this adventure!  This movie by the way is the reason Henry Cavill couldn’t shave his facial hair for the Justice League reshoots which led to the weird CG face issues, so if nothing else this movie deserves SOME credit for making that movie that much more hilarious!  Does this franchise manage to keep the momentum going for one more outing, or is the impossible mission now to keep audiences interest for yet entry?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) receiving a mission that, should he choose to accept it, could save the entire world for at least the sixth time but that the US government would obviously disavow if he got caught or murdered.  You know, you’d think that there might be some underlying geopolitical issues that could use some resolving if the US Government had to constantly send this dude on impossible missions that they couldn’t POSSIBLY claim to be a party to, but I guess a stable foreign policy doesn’t make for a particularly interesting spy film.  Anyway, it turns out that Solomon Lane (Same Harris) from the LAST movie had a whole bunch of followers known as THE APOSTLES who are wreaking hell all over the world and even created an outbreak of Smallpox in Kashmir seemingly for shits and giggles.  Their biggest plan yet is to get their hands on stolen Plutonium so they can make nuclear bombs, and while Ethan gets REALLY close to recovering them he ends up dropping the ball when his teammates Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) almost get caught in the crossfire.  Determined to fix his mistakes, he’s assigned to go after a black market merchant known as THE WHITE WIDOW (Vanessa Kirby) who can broker a deal between the Apostles and a world famous terrorist that Ethan will pretend to be for the Plutonium.  Get Solomon Lane out of jail, and he gets the Plutonium.  Complicating matters are the Director of the CIA Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) and her right hand man August (Henry Cavill) who don’t trust Ethan not to screw this up again, and even Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who’s back in the picture but is once again not easily classified as a friend or foe in this situation.  Will Ethan be able to get the Plutonium back before the Apostles blow the heck out of city and start World War III?  Can Ethan just hand over such a dangerous terrorist in order to stop nuclear war, or could Solomon be planning something even worse?  Just how many ridiculous stunts can they convince Tom Cruise to do by telling him how youthful it makes him look!?

MIFCD1
“Let’s get his clone on standby just in case.  YOU’RE DOING GREAT, TOM!!”

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Cinema Dispatch: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

MIRN0

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Trying to make a good Mission Impossible movie WITHOUT Brad Bird?  Sounds like a job for the IMF to me!  After the success of the fourth installment in the Mission Impossible series (Ghost Protocol), Tom Cruise and company are going to try their luck at making this into a noteworthy franchise once again.  This time around though, they don’t have Brad Bird on hand but they DO have the director of Jack Reacher which was a fun little Tom Cruise power fantasy so this new guy might just be a good fit for one of this series which is known for being a collection of Tom Cruise vanity projects.  While I have not seen the first three movies, I thought that Ghost Protocol was incredibly enjoyable and Tom Cruise has been on an upswing lately with movies like Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow, so there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to recapture what made the last movie work despite the absence of its director.  Will they succeed once again in their mission to make something worthwhile out of this aging franchise, or will this blow up in their face (in five seconds)?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is about super spy Ethan Hunt played by Tom Cruise who HAS to be a real life Highlander considering how good he still looks in his fifties.

Seriously, is this guy the REAL last son of Krypton!?
Seriously, is this guy the REAL last son of Krypton!?

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