Tag Archives: Cinephile

REVIEW: “SPENCER” (2021) Neon Films

Having high hopes going into director Pablo Larrain’s “SPENCER” considering how much I enjoyed ‘Jackie‘, I was surprised to find myself truly wondering what it was that I was watching and then remembering the word ‘fable’ being brought out at the beginning. And that is at least somewhat of an explanation for this sad tale of a film that I find myself having a hard time trying to describe how I felt about it. Two things I think I can justifiably say this film is a fictional thriller using factual characters, who apparently only speak in poems and riddles and it is definitely not a biography.

The set up is Christmas 1991, and Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart), is driving herself to Sandringham Castle in a Porsche convertible no less, through country roads speeding along casually, something that realistically would never happen, but again, it’s a fable so why not. She gets completely lost even though she acknowledges she’s been there so many times before, but not before stopping in a small diner-type country restaurant and pretending almost awkwardly that she is not just a Princess, but regular country folk like they are, all the while in her upscale Chanel clothing. After arriving late and after the Queen, a huge faux pas in the world of royalty, she is clearly targeted by the rest of the family at this point. And here is where it really goes off rails as we all know yes, there was a Diana vs. The Royal Family dynamic, but this film takes that to a whole different level. With visions belying her at every corner, including Anne Boleyn to what I’m guessing is supposed to be taken as a warning for Diana to not fall into a similar fate, as she is literally shown as being a whiney, complaining, consistently late for everything, and Larrain makes her out to be so unpleasant and self-centered, you almost wonder if you would want her as your dinner companion at all.

There is much to follow here as the film continues an almost odd over-the-top portrayal of Princess Diana, with only small bits of actual fact here and there. The bulimia we all know she suffered from is shown up front and personal, yet almost made fun of at other moments. There is an odd whole scenario of a scarecrow which follows us throughout the film, without ever really giving good reason except for the fact that she speaks and dresses it like a human, and a psychedelic dance sequence I’ve yet to figure out. I understand why some may like it, but it’s completely void of any relevance to the Princess Diana and Royal Family story that actually took place. I think my entire beef with this film is that they made her look whiney, weak and mental and I just don’t think Stewart did her justice for me. It wasn’t terrible mind you as Stewart is good, but by far not great and by just simply adding to her actual personality, having a blonde short haircut and a not so Diana English accent, she didn’t encapsulate who or what Princess Diana really was. It wasn’t terrible – but I just didn’t feel the way so many do as besides the haircut she didn’t fit Diana’s personality for me, it’s as though she was almost too distracting for me is how I can best say it. But maybe that was the point – not sure.

It is undoubtedly beautiful to look at, the score is immediately captivating, as well as the costumes, production design + cinematography are the standouts as is her supporting cast of Timothy Spall as Major Alistar Gregory, who comes off as ‘foe’ at first, but might actually be ‘friend’ instead, as well as Sally Hawkins playing her maid en confidante’ Maggie. We barely see Jack Farthing as Prince Charles, and as well The Queen either played by Stella Gonet. The way they portray her is a choice a very unsympathetic and annoying ‘choice’ that was certainly very off putting but the standout part is it did show her love for her sons as I don’t think any film could ever deny that. Again, I realize I’m in the minority here on this one, but one can’t help or deny how one feels about a film as it is truly something each person puts in perspective on their own. But in essence for me, Diana was a strong independent woman who was roped into a lie, and dealt with it better than most, while crashing at times, I wanted them to show the part of how she used it all that and made it her strengths versus weakness.

Grade: C

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“SPENCER” FROM NEON FILMS – IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW 

REVIEW: “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” fails to ignite completely..

Wandering into “THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN” my assumption was it would point me to a somewhat of a Nikola Tesla type films with Louis Wain perhaps being the British version of him. I couldn’t have been more wrong, which can sometimes be a benefit to not knowing exactly what you are going into as it leaves you to actually judge a film for what it is – versus what others say about it.

The film opens in 1881 and Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), is a young man whose life has just dramatically changed over the death of his father. Per the time and status that the Wain family has acquired, Louis must step into the role of breadwinner for his five younger sisters and their aging mother. Initially, it’s hard what to make of Wain as he is constantly drawing, yet his eccentricities also include a belief in the electrical currents that drive all life forms, hence my previous thoughts. The film itself doesn’t spend much time on this, though it seems to be important enough, but the feeling is at first it’s more eccentricity vs. a mental illness – later deemed to possibly be schizophrenia. What the film shifts to almost exclusively is Wain’s family life. His stern and demanding sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough), is completely unforgiving of his little ‘whims’ as they are referred to, and demands that Louis find steady work to support the family, which again is supposed to be his role now, clearly one he does not want. An interview with an Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), is an editor/publisher looking to offer Wain a job, and this is when we are first treated to see what a gifted illustrator Wain is can be and his speed at drawing is due to an incredible ability to draw with both hands simultaneously.

As we continue on more with his family theme versus who Wain really is, he ends up overcoming one of his insecurities around his cleft lip which he has always covered with a mustache, and ends up marrying Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), the governess to his sisters. For the times this was quite the scandal, most especially given the differences in age and social standing of both involved, but Louis plows on as it seems as though she was the only one who understood and encouraged him as an artist. Needless to say his sisters are enraged at this and there is much more shown here again of this than what really is it that makes Louis Wain who he was.

We then are drawn into the tragedy that strikes Wain, and watch as he really mentally spirals more and becomes inspired by their pet cat, Peter. In fact, Peter becomes his muse of sorts though confusing because again, his sisters are all mixed in plus the fact that he clearly thinks the cat is Emily. It does however leads to thousands of drawings of cats for publication in newspapers, magazines, greeting cards, and just about every other platform available at the time. But also once again the films leaves Louis and takes back to his sister’s lives and his youngest sister Marie (Hayley Squires), being committed. So it’s a mish-mash of back and forth whereas I wanted to know who Louis Wain was about, it was very hard to decipher until the Cat pictures come along and that is what he becomes famous for. Personally I would’ve like to delve into this subject and how it evolved more rather than a major focus being on his family lives instead of his as it seems Wain’s work becomes enormously popular for a time, the film doesn’t really explore it in any detail, choosing instead to dance around the question of his and all his sisters mental states over the decades which span about 50 years in time.

Olivia Colman provides the narration and tries to make it lively at times. Taika Waititi and Nick Cave both have brief cameos, as well as Adeel Akhtar in smaller role as Mr. Rider. A role that clearly should’ve been more prominent as Rider was one of Wain’s few friends who we see meet briefly early on, but in the end finds Wain in a sanitarium and ends up being the one who helps Louis secure a place better accommodations in lovely home complete with a garden and yes, plenty of cats. The performance here by Cumberbatch is a bit over-the-top with his tics in the first half of the film, almost to quirky at times – he does make the mental part realistic at times, and drawing part of Wain seem interesting and real. Again, when the film lets us see those very pertinent parts come through.

All in all, if you know nothing about or who Louis Wain was, this might not explain it to you precisely as it follows the path of his family and all the peculiarities of them and him, rather than serve up a more poignant look at Wain and his Cat drawings for which he is actually famous for.

Grade: C

 

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN ” IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW AND WILL BE COMING TO PRIME VIDEO ON FRIDDAY, NOVEMEBER 5, 2021

REVIEW: “THE LAST DUEL” (2021) 20th Century/Disney Films

The film that finally reunites Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as writers the first time since Good Will Hunting, and just as in Good Will Hunting they also share the screen acting wise, but with Damon picking up the more prominent of roles, though Affleck having a stand-out as well. This medieval times storytelling in “THE LAST DUEL” is done on a grand scale by none other than the grand scale director himself, Ridley Scott.

The film is told in three chapters each from the point of view of one of the three protagonists, the two duelists – Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), and the third by Marguerite (Jodie Comer), of why in this duel is taking place in 13th century aristocratic France. It is supposedly for truth and honour, yet this can not only be confusing at times, but when you have people telling the same incident from three people’s different point of views…. it can start to get tedious, and it does with a runtime of two hours and 32 minutes.

The action is here is brutal, the hardcore Medieval type brutal and though it is filmed well, you have to have a taste for these types of films and they are just not truly in my wheelhouse, yet Gladiator holds a place in my heart that will never be taken away. The story itself leans on Marguerite’s accusation against Jacques of rape. It is met with anger and hostility from both Jean, their friends, and pretty much the rest of France, as rape is not considered a crime against a woman, but a property matter. These kinds of things, while I know existed, just irk me in subject matter. Yet I guess my true excruciating anger came from the rape scene which is is played not once, but twice. As an audience of both male and female, it left a lot of mixed feelings amongst both as it’s incredibly hard to watch. My question would honestly be did Ridley Scott need to amplify the excruciating horror of the act by showing it to us twice? Would it have made a difference to the outcome had we not seen it so graphically performed in front of us on both accounts. I think not. Oddly you also realize what the outcome of the duel will most likely be during these points.

The set decoration, costuming and all seem quite fit for the time and not being an expert in French history of the 1300’s, I will say I was never entirely sure what accent Damon and the cast were employing with their characters as none were French, but it never distracted from the characters either. Comer was probably the best as I can’t imagine the subject matter at hand was an easy one for any actress to deal with. The highlight for me though was Affleck’s somewhat comedic portrayl of d’Alençon as it borders at times on camp, but seems as like it was likely intentional and oh so much fun. It lightened up the hardness of this film to at give it some ‘bon viveur’ as the French would say.

All in all, this film will be a sheer delight for those loving Medieval dramas and Ridley Scott fans. I’m somewhere in the middle of understanding it, being confused by it, angered by it. All in all a fine movie with fine writing, acting and cinematography. It is just not something special and we have seen it all be done better before. There is sort of gravitas missing along the lines and all in all, just did not sit right with me completely.

Grade: C

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Rosa Parra @RosasReviews who invited me along as her guest

“THE LAST DUEL” – is playing in theaters now

REVIEW: “MASS” (2021) Bleeker Street

Stepping away from acting and putting on a directors hat instead, Fran Kranz gives us a truly heart wrenching movie that is so well written from start to finish and carrying along with it, an almost gut wrenching amount of weight within it’s dialogue in “MASS”.

The film begins perfectly with a sense of something equal to tense energy and yet some awkwardness at the same time. It opens with church volunteers Judy (Breeda Wool), and Anthony (Kagen Albright), along with Kendra (Michelle N Carter), who is in charge of making this all happen. These three are are preparing an private room for what is clearly a high-stakes meeting. The four guests arrive, and it’s two couples – four people – all looking uneasy and unsure about the meeting. As we watch the initial small talk we start to realize what is happening and why they are here. This meeting is taking place six years after a devastating tragedy, and the parents have gathered in the room of a church to come to terms with the events of that time. We finally learn Evan, the son of Gail (Martha Plimpton), and Jay (Jason Isaacs), was shot by Hayden, the son of Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney). It’s been six years since the school shooting and both couples are seeking closure to the immense grief they’ve carried. There is also the overwhelming burden of guilt and the weight of blame, finger pointing, and as to be expected, real emotional chaos at times. Some of the issues being discussed reminded me of the documentary ‘American Tragedy‘ wherein the mother of one of the Columbine shooters tries to speak from her POV. But this gives us the difference of having both sides speaking to each other. Here all four leads brings something something different to the table, but put it all together as director Kranz did, and you have yourself one very good film that will stick with you for some time.

To put it quite bluntly, ‘Mass‘ is an acting masterpiece. Martha Plimpton’s performance is like time bomb that devastatingly yet also politely explodes at the finish. Ann Dowd shows someone who is truly drained, but is trying her best to put herself back together while expressing the complicated emotions being held within her. Jason Isaacs takes on the role of a devastated father with the energy of a broken man full of anger all while trying to hold back his hurt. Everyone it seems gets their huge powerful moment except for Reed Birney who is quiet and calm throughout. We only get a peek at his heartbreak, regret and horror, and at times it feels like he gives off such insolence as though he almost just doesn’t care.

Every once in a while you come across a film that doesn’t need any bells and whistles or a Marvel superhero in it, just actors giving raw, heartfelt performances. One that I have rarely seen in this form and one that will stay with you for a very long time. It tells a tragic story that will break you in many different ways. Their ability to convey a wide range of emotions will absolutely tear you apart, taking you on a roller coaster of a ride until arriving at a stop where you are satisfyingly put back together. While not for everyone, it does leave you better for having watched.

Grade: A

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“MASS” from Bleeker Street Films – is playing in theaters now – look for VOD release dates upcoming

NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 RECAP REVIEWS

Thrilled, honoured and excited to be able to cover Nashville Film Festival in it’s 52nd year, which ran from September 30 – October 6 and had some lovely films, sadly a few I didn’t get to, some weren’t available virtually, and a few I might be hesitant to recommend. I always find a gem or two though!

That all being said – this was my first time covering this lovely festival in the vibrant city of Nashville – although yes, I did it virtually – though at times I felt I could taste the great food, and feel the vibrancy of the city itself while watching!  While I’ve had some great films to choose from, I am only human and can only review so much – and I will not be doing my usual ‘grading’ system as honestly, while some of these Independent Films might be better than others, they ALL deserve respect for just getting themselves made and created jobs for those doing so. Giving someone 200 million dollars for a film deserves getting rated, giving someone who made a film on a shoestring budget while barely making rent/bills, just out of the sheer love of wanting to put in their heart and soul – just deserves accolades period. And with that being said… here we go!

PORCUPINE

In this drama from writer/director M. Cahill, we find Audrey (Jena Malone), a seemingly hard working young woman that is just getting fired from her collection agency job. She is also overdue on rent, had her electricity cut off, doesn’t have any friends, and to top it off, a boyfriend who tells her he’s ‘not coming over anymore’. While she doesn’t seem like a screw up, she has lived in 4 different places and had 7 jobs all in a short time period. We aren’t really sure why she doesn’t talk to her parents anymore, but it’s clear this is mutual decision is mostly because as we can see she beats to the sound of her own drum, something we can clearly tell through the one phone call we hear. Basically she went left when they wanted her to go right.

And Audrey does what many end up doing everyday to keep themselves occupied, she watches endless YouTube videos. On one of them she sees an ad for adult adoption and decides to look into it, eventually being matched up with Sunny (Emily Kuroda) and her gruff German husband Otto (Robert Hunger-Bühler) who have their own odd relationship issues already. While the relationship with the three is tentative at first, they do end up warming up to each other.  The way Cahill wrote this story – which is based on a true one – makes it relatable on so many levels and what Malone brings to the character of Audrey makes it feel even more personal.

THE MURDER PODCAST

This decently fun, very campy little horror indie directed by William Bagely is about two guys, Chad (Andrew McDermott), and Eddie (Cooper Bucha), who are wanting to become amateur podcasters. Crazily enough a murder happens in their small hometown and they start investigating it, clearly very badly, and of course become wrapped up in a full on terrifying adventure full of paranormal activity while people keep getting killed. Upon the investigation, we find out this has all happened before.

This movie falls off the rails in parts, but has it’s comical and gory moments and generally, it’s a pretty good watch considering what month we are in.

GREEN SEA

As noted, I always find a few gems and ‘Green Sea’ was just that for me. Set in a small Greek fishing village, we find Anna (Angeliki Papoulia), who has lost her memory completely and finds herself working in a small tavern ran by Roula (Yannis Tsortekis). It seems that Roula has gone through quite a few terrible cooks, and the regulars think it will be more of the same with Anna. But to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she is a fantastic cook and her meals become experiences that bring memories flooding back of lives lived to each of the regulars, making a bond between herself and them become close. Roula and a few of the wives of these men, aren’t liking it much and while she has flashes here and there of memories, and once the wives see Anna and taste the food, things are better.

There is a lot of story in here and it digs deep into each character lives and most especially Roula’s, which as we find out is not always so pleasant. When Anna has a memory flash and it leads her to a book Roula was reading, is where the complete picture of all her amnesia comes into frame. To give this away would be depriving you of not only a great performance by Papoulia, but an excellent ending to this seaside tale – one that I would highly recommend you take the time to see if possible.

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All virtual screenings courtesy of Nashville Film Festival and their affiliates