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!!

.

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
Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: 2021 Catch Up (Part 1)”

Cinema Dispatch: Early Man

EARLYMANCD0

Early Man and all the images you see in this review are owned by Aardman Animations and StudioCanal

Directed by Nick Park

I remember watching those Wallace and Gromit shorts many times when I was a kid on VHS tapes (none of which I still have), and while I haven’t been keeping up with Aardman TOO much in the last decade, I have always respected them as a studio and have had nothing but good things to say about their work; including that Pirates movie which seems to have had a much more mixed reception than a lot of their other work.  Now we’ve got their most auditions work to date; not because it’s a particularly out there or unexpected from the studio, but because they had the gall to open it against Black Panther!  I mean I guess it goes with the David and Goliath underdog story this movie is trying to tell, but something tells me that the forward thinking and groundbreaking black centered super hero movie is gonna do a SMIDGE more business than this silly cartoon.  Does Aardman’s latest adventure hold up to the high pedigree that they’ve set for themselves over their long and prestigious filmography, or have the masters of clay lost their touch in this latest outing?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Dug (Eddie Redmayne) who is the youngest and the most wide-eyed member of a tribe of cavemen that spends their days hunting rabbits and playing primitive instruments.  Dug dreams of something more though, like possibly hunting BIGGER animals (maybe even a Mammoth), yet the leader Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) doesn’t feel like rocking the boat is the best thing for the tribe; especially when everyone else is so incompetent that they can manage to catch rabbits.  Still, the march of time is a cruel one and one day the tribe is uprooted from their idyllic homes by the war machines and mining equipment of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston); leader of a nearby town that has advanced to the Bronze Age.  Through a series of convoluted missteps and slapstick humor, Dug ends up tripping falling into the Bronze Age city and even gets stuck right in the middle of their sacred arena where the mightiest warriors gather for the crowd’s amusement.  What exactly do they DO in the arena?  Fight to the death?  Feed Christians to lions?  NO!  They play SOCCER of course!  You know, that one game that everyone else calls football that we in the US only seem to care about once every four years!  Dug, seeing how much the people of this town crave the sport and treat as sacrosanct, challenges Lord Nooth and his best players to a match against him and his tribe!  If Lord Nooth wins, he can keep their homeland, but if Dug wins they get it back!  Can Dug and his tribe manage to learn how play just in time to beat the very best players the Bronze Age has to offer?  Will Dug’s new friend Goona (Maisie Williams) be the ringer they need to secure victory and will she finally get to live out her dreams of glory on the football pitch?  More importantly, can FIFA find a way to somehow turn this into an excuse to plunder a country of its riches and bully local governments!?

EARLYMANCD1
“This game is brought to you by Bronze.  Always bet on Bronze and if we catch you with Steel, that’s twenty years in Football Jail!”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Early Man”

Cinema Dispatch: Alice Through the Looking Glass

ATTLGCD0

Alice Through the Looking Glass and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by James Bobin

A sequel to a movie six years after everyone stopped caring about it!  THAT’S never gone wrong, am I right?  To be fair to Disney, the original film did make an astonishing amount of money (one BILLION worldwide) but this feels way too late to capitalize on whatever moment that first movie had.  Not only that, but it was also one of the early 3D films which I’m sure boosted the ticket sales, yet now we’re at a point where people are just sick of the gimmick, so it doesn’t even have THAT going for it.  Still, the first movie did manage to be pretty decent and the trailers for this looked very creative to say the least.  Can this manage to be a damn fine sequel that just needed a little extra time to fully come together, or is this a naked cash grab for everyone involved?  Let’s find out!!

The movie picks up three years after the first movie where Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the intervening time traveling the world as a sea captain for Ascot family’s trading company (I think).  She returns to England at the start of the movie to see her mother (Lindsay Duncan) and plan the next trip with the company.  Unfortunately, the Ascot patriarch has died since she last returned and the one in charge of the company is his son Hamish (Leo Bill) who you may recall was set to be Alice’s husband in the first movie which didn’t end up panning out.  Now that this new guy is in charge (and he has a wounded ego) Alice is not only no longer employed as a sea captain, but for some reason is given an ultimatum to either sell her father’s boat or risk losing her mother’s house.  It gets worse when you find out that the mother has been working behind her back to make sure she gets fired so that she would have no choice but to “settle down” as all proper ladies do.  Well I’d say THAT’S enough stuff to stress over to make a trip to Wonderland seem like a wondrous vacation, right?  She gets led to the titular looking glass by the butterfly Absolem (Alan Rickman) and eventually finds the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) on the other side who is slowly dying and not quite so delightfully mad.  Apparently he found a modicum of proof that his family is still alive but no one else believes him so he’s going to slowly die of depression… I guess.  Alice has no choice but to go back in time to save the Hatter’s family from the Jaberwacki and has to face off against Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen) to get that ability.  Will she be able to save the Hatter from his battle with depression?  What will she learn as she travels back to the glory days of Wonderland, and what must she risk in order to get the opportunity to do so?  Does anyone else notice that its’ a lot brighter this time around?

ATTLGCD1
“Did you bring the sunscreen?”     “The hell do you need sunscreen for?  YOU HAVE A HAT!!”

Continue reading “Cinema Dispatch: Alice Through the Looking Glass”