REVIEW: “SPENCER” (2021) Neon Films

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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..

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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: “LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” (2021) Focus Features

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Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing and “LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” takes us back to the Swinging 60’s of the scene in the famous entertainment district in London’s stylish West End in way I was completely not prepared for. The film however is also meant to be in the present tense and it’s the vivid intersecting of these two periods, that definitely take you on a ride that you just might not be ready for. What started out completely amazing for its first 2 acts-only switched gears to a different tone in the final act. Not necessarily a bad one, just maybe a gear or two off from what you expected or wanted.

As we see Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), open the film in present day by dancing around her 60’s styled room, in a self-designed dress made of all things – newspaper. We soon learn she’s an orphan raised by her supportive grandmother (Rita Tushingham) and dreams of being a fashion designer. So she is thrilled when her acceptance letter arrives from the London School of Fashion. But it’s here we find out that Ellie also has visions of sorts and this should be kept in mind as she moves herself to London to carry out these dreams.

Once Ellie arrives in London, she is overwhelmed with the big city so to speak, and she immediately becomes the target of ‘mean girls’ and fellow student Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen). Rather than subject herself to the abuse, Ellie sublets an attic room from an kindly elderly landlord named Mrs. Collins (Diana Rigg). Ellie loves the room and her independence, but her dreams act as a portal back to those swinging 60’s of which she’s so fond. But that’s only the beginning. It’s here where she follows/becomes Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), and the mirror effects are truly other-worldly. Sandie is everything that Ellie wishes she was herself – confident, radiant, ambitious, and beautiful. This dream state allows Ellie to live vicariously through Sandie. At least initially.

Her dreams quickly become reality, as Eloise keeps magically getting transported back to 60s London, where she is mysteriously linked to the life of Sandie. These nighttime adventures allow Eloise to live the life she’s always wanted. But the honeymoon period doesn’t last for long, as these dreams gradually devolve into nightmares. The question of what is reality and what is dream begins to get muddled, as the glamorous white lights begin to fade and run into other worldly areas that take the movie out of the context it was in. It’s almost as it in three different parts, with parts one and two being the most creative and stylishly fun, and the third coming in to take it over as a different type of film altogether, and while not making it bad, there was a moment in between those parts where I thought I might be seeing what could’ve been my favourite film of the year had it not changed gears so completely.


With there being no true central villain to this story, as Sandie’s pimp and abuser, Jack (Matt Smith), is one of them, and plays his role with relish but the idea is truly that there are hundreds of villains and for a while, the villains are the ghoulish spirits of controlling men. But the main high points of this film is how it is loaded with so many great hits from the 60s, the score was haunting, beautiful, eerie, and pair that with the cinematography and you have a nice chef’s kiss of fun. And not to be remiss, but the costuming and designing here along with hair is absolute perfection when it comes to what they are trying to tell you with the story. Put all of it together and you will be apt to agree the film just looks phenomenal, from the way it’s filmed to the use of colors, it nails that aesthetic of 60s London, and makes you feel like you’re on the most mesmerizing trip.

Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy were very good as honestly, Taylor-Joy lights up any screen she is on and gave the perfect amount of seductiveness needed in her time traveling role. McKenzie gives an equally good performance in the lead role as she brings that sweet sense of naivety and adorable cuteness, and lighthearted feel amongst the very dark and disturbing nature of many of the film’s elements, and moments where the film slowed down to focus on her character was never boring because she had such an energetic vibe to her and was quite entertaining to watch. Ellie’s admirer John (Michael Ajao), is a fellow student that also hasn’t seemed to fit in and seems to be the only genuine person at this university, offering friendship to Ellie, which nobody else there offers her, but their relationship almost seems more clumsy than real.

The finale twists up somewhat as just where you though you knew where the plot was headed once everything started to wrap up (or so it seemed), then make way as you’re hit with something game-changing for the story and while again, it totally veered into left field from what the beginning of the film started off – it still is a stylish mystery-type horror thriller that has it’s highlights and is worth the Halloween watch.

Grade: B-

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Film Independent

“LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW