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 PARTY” (2018) Roadside Attractions

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This opening scene and the closing scene of Director Sally Potter’s new black & white shot film “The Party” are exactly the same. What lies between those two shots is a thankfull scant 71 minutes of a rather abysmal ‘dark comedy’ that didn’t really bring me any laughs, though in all fairness – I did hear a scant few on the other side of the screening.

While the film was not outright dreadful, it does go to show that one should never be taken in by a slickly made trailer or a stellar cast-list. Kristen Scott Thomas as Janet and a really craggy old looking version of Timothy Spall as her husband Bill, lead as the couple having ‘The Party’ to celebrate Janet’s promotion in the political arena. Guests: April (Patricia Clarkson), her seemingly always annoying partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and the much younger, newly preggers with triplets Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and lastly we have Tom (Cillian Murphy) a wound up, coked out financier of some sorts.

Let’s start off with the script to which the statement huh? might apply for me. As truly no attempt was seemingly made to write anything approaching natural conversation. Dialogue was jagged and disjointed, lacking any genuine motivational flow. Sorry, but real people just DON’T interact like this and yes, I get that’s it’s a movie and not everything needs to be exact but whoa! this was just ridiculous in a manner of speaking. And as for it being a comedy, I was definitely fooled into thinking this might be, yet I think I laughed three times total and two of them were little more than polite ha!’s to be sure. Now again, I did hear some others laughing more than this – but no one near me.

Pacing: what pacing? I’m just going to roll with – there really wasn’t any. At one point I caught myself yawning and for a film that last only 71 minutes – well it says a lot.

Lastly the characterisation: seven characters flapping about on screen and not a single one of them believable. Just 2-dimensional assemblages of what I can only call over-the-top histrionics. Consequently I never felt any sympathy (or even antipathy) toward any of them, so couldn’t engage with any of the supposed crises they were experiencing.

Performances: almost uniformly muggy and overdone – an effect made even worse by the habit of shooting an awful lot of exchanges in tight close-up.

Oh yes… I said “short”, didn’t I? Well let’s say this, when the end credits appeared there was an audible “Uh?” of surprise from the audience and a sigh of relief from myself. The film had lasted barely over an hour and on second thought, this was probably a blessing: not sure I could have withstood another 30 minutes of such nonsense.

Wrapping it all up: There isn’t ONE person in this cast of seven whom the audience can really sympathise or relate with. The seven characters call themselves ‘friends’ but treat each other with hostility, dishonesty etc. Too me it felt more like an unreal vacuum of lovelessness than a real group of people. Even the super-talented Cillian Murphy comes across as one-sided and overacting. The ‘twist’ at the end is also not very interesting and a bit of a cliché. I’ve seen much better work from Sally Potter!

Grade: D+
@pegsatthemovies

Review Screening: Thursday, February 15, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent at LACMA
THE PARTY is now playing in select theaters worldwide

Review: “STILL ALICE” & “MR. TURNER”

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still alice mr turner
Putting up two films here in one review as it’s been a month or so since I’ve seen the films and as they are both average films wrapped in fantastic lead performances, I can sum them up rather quickly.

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Starting with Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays “Alice Howland” a happily married linguistics professor who suddenly notices while on a run through the UCLA campus while on a trip to LA where during a lecture she was giving, that she is completely lost, can’t remember why she is there and that is just the beginning of when she realizes she is forgetting words, details, appointments etc. As she goes to get a checkup, as she is still young at age 50, for what could be happening to her, she gets the devastating diagnosis of early onset Alsheimers disease. It’s here that Moore’s performance goes into high gear. Along with her husband, “John” (Alec Baldwin) a neurologist, and three grown children, “Anna” (Kate Bosworth), the married one of the bunch who is trying through invitro, to have a child, “Tom” (Hunter Parrish) who is following in his parents footsteps and in medical school, and lastly the black sheep so to speak of the bunch “Lydia” (Kristen Stewart) who is trying to be an actress (note: Kristen Stewart is trying to be an actress here-if only this was real life *insert sarcasm*) still alice 2

Moore brings the fear, stress and the struggle of a what a woman whose mind is going away too fast especially considering who she was..as her neuroligists says to her at one point that someone who was so actively intelligent as she was, the mind can go even faster. To quote her own words: “I’m learning the art of losing everyday. We become ridiculous, incapable, comic – but this is not us, this is the disease”. The film is moving in the fact that it’s impossible to stay indifferent in face of Alzheimer’s, what it lacks though is that you don’t really develop any particular feelings for Alice or her family, and feel a bit detached from any of them. They don’t explore tears factor here, which is fine because we do understand where it is heading well enough, and though competently done, the film lacks the huge emotional impact to really involve us.

Grade: C – for the film itself; B+ for Moore’s performance

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Moving on here to “Mr. Turner” starring Timothy Spall as “J.M.W.Turner” the eccentric, but brilliant painter of the Romanticist era of the 18th/19th Century known mostly for his landscapes and being the “painter of light”
The film starts and focuses on the last quarter century of Turner’s life where we see him being extremely close to his father, “William Turner” (Paul Jesson) and a very odd relationship with their housemaid “Hannah Danby” (Dorothy Atkinson) who has a skin condition that goes from bad to just plain awful during the film. We also take note that Turner really doesn’t have many friends, he suffers from bouts of major depression (something his mother was institutionalized for) and while it doesn’t really show if he was actually married or not, a few times during the film we see “Sarah Danby” (Ruth Sheen) & her two daughters “Evelina” (Sandy Foster) & “Georgiana” (Amy Dawson) visit, make demands of him and make as though they are his daughters though he treats them all rather deplorably.

As we go through the years we see Turner go into the relationship with “Sophia Bush” (Marion Bailey), after her second husband passes, though she seemly doesn’t know who he is for the first few years that he comes to stay at her bed & breakfast spot every summer as ‘Mr. Booth’ and this is how he lives for the next 15+ years until his death. mr turner 2

As I have liked some of Mike Leigh’s films over the years, visually I can say this movie is truly beautiful as we are treated to viewing creation of some of Turner’s best work. Though the film moves slowly, the performance by Spall is quite something to speak of especially after learning that he spent two years being taught how to paint like Turner so as it make the artistry even more realistic. Though at times all the grunting and groaning as his everyday responses to things reminded me of a Women’s tennis match as I’m not someone who can stomach those noises well and let’s just say, I had to set my popcorn down, it still is quite a feat in itself to have done all this.

Grade: C once again for the film..a B for the performance of Timothy Spall.

@pegsatthemovies

(See grading scale)