Movie Review (SPENCER)

The movie SPENCER, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana about five years before her tragic death, is purposefully claustrophobic, ponderous, and angst-ridden. The sound track underscores this overarching mood theme as the music creatively transitions in and out of being melodious classical to gentle jazz to cacophonous, irritating jazz before looping back to classical and so on. This effectively brought me the viewer into Diana’s troubled state of mind. Frequent closeups emphasize a sense of the heroine’s longing for intimacy and understanding from people in a family who largely have no clue about either. In this frigid relational desert, she finds an oasis of genuine connection with her two young sons and her favorite dresser (movingly played by Sally Hawkins from THE SHAPE OF WATER), a woman carrying a secret of her own. The result is a somewhat uneven, occasionally forced, narrative that takes place from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day at Sandringham House with the British Royal Family.

The Princess is clearly an outsider experiencing life with her in-laws as imprisoning and invalidating so much so that she feels driven to the edge of madness. Ms. Stewart performs excellently with what she is given to work with here, which sometimes is over-the-top melodrama and histrionics, while other times is compelling melancholy and sympathetic frustration and rage. The interiors of wherever this was filmed, which may actually have been Sandringham House, are exquisite. The physical coldness of the place, which Diana and her sons often make reference to, is an extension of the Royal family’s perpetual emotional iciness as well as that of a scowling, skulking old servant (an equerry, powerfully played by Timothy Spall) who is charged with keeping Diana on schedule and generally in line.

The acting by all the supporting players is superb, as British casts so often are. I felt proud of dear Ms. Stewart holding her own with all the talent around her. She clearly continues to hone her craft, and most certainly so with playing the tragic heroine trope.

This is a movie one needs to be in the right mood/head space for, especially for viewers who are used to constant on-screen action and/or rom com light fare. This is art house (or tries to be) psychological (melo)drama, and some of us like that sort of thing now and then.

Mini Book Review and Rant (DUNE by Frank Herbert)

I never could get into Frank Herbert’s modern classic sci-fi novel DUNE, though I sure tried. I find his writing to be overly-earnest and lacking a focused elegance that, say, J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy conveys. And Tolkien’s work often expresses a lyrical levity, balanced with all that narrative’s seriousness. Yes, LoTR, like DUNE, is indeed heterosexist but not then also grossly homophobic like Herbert’s novel and its sequels so endemically are. Regardless of this “apples vs. oranges” comparison some may feel I am unfairly making here, I have come to accept that it’s not a reflection on me somehow “missing something” over not being able to fully appreciate DUNE, including all of the movie and TV adaptations. It is simply a cumbersome, tedious writing style and universe with some sensibilities that are not at all simpatico with who I am, but, rather, actually crassly insult who I am.

Mini Movie Review (ETERNALS)

I just saw ETERNALS. Now, there’s recycled story and characters, which I think can sometimes result in something interesting, even good. But, then there’s overly-recycled to the point of vapid inanity, which this movie largely is. The big ensemble cast is filled with too many glamorous chiefs and not enough Indians, making for unwieldy, tedious watching of poorly thought out characters lifted and twisted from Greek and Sumerian/Babylonian mythologies (and maybe from one or two other ones as well). The Avengers have these comparatively after thoughts of demigods/super heroes beat in every sense, including with costumes and the villains they fight on screen. The lackluster Eternals have schlocky, uninteresting, unoriginal Deviants (CGI effects seemingly whipped up by a mind-numbed video gamer) to fight. I felt briefly embarrassed for the starring actors. But, then I remembered they’re each likely laughing all the way to the bank. I can just imagine this production’s swollen, often plodding script coming out of a brainstorming session of Disney brass, the goal being to simply make more money as safely, predictably as possible, no other reason.

The one colorful moment that stands out for me is a splashy Bollywood dance scene, which lasts for maybe all of two to three minutes. Now, if this movie had been made into, say, a steady stream of Bollywood and Kabuki dance numbers, that would have been a fun spectacle to see. But, no, this overly long, dull drivel of a film about trying to save planet Earth from total destruction by some all-powerful patriarchal force (yet again) lacked both spectacle and fun, not to mention intrigue.

I look forward to seeing the movie SPENCER (as in Princess Diana) next week, which will be a refreshing change of pace from these latest bloated and cumbersome sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters, which also includes DUNE: PART ONE, that seem to go nowhere.

Movie Review (VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE)

VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE was quite fun. I enjoyed the banter between the alien symbiote Venom and his host Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). More than what I remember in the 2018 prequel (VENOM), Eddie’s symbiote endearingly expresses vulnerability and warmth next to his usual savagery. I laughed out loud fairly often, such as when Venom enters a night club where all the patrons are in costumes. There, he grabs the mic from the singer onstage and encourages everyone to be who they truly are. For once, he fits right in and is a big hit with the crowd.

The special effects are decent and playfully fantastical. The age-old concept of a person coming to better terms with an inner voice and energy that’s more impulsive, wild, and uninhibited than how they outwardly identify as being is humorously played out here. We all have our shadow sides.

The villains are competent enough, but barely worth mentioning. Ultimately, fighting fire with fire is the premise here, for Venom has to battle a red symbiote, Carnage, arising from his own blood. Darkness, like light, exists on a spectrum of intensity. Carnage, inhabiting a serial killer (Woody Harrelson), embodies pure chaotic evil while Venom is, well, like an intelligent wild carnivore steadily evolving with the help of his sympathetic human host.

I would rate this production a close second in quality to the first VENOM movie. It helps that the running time is just a little over 90 minutes, short and intense like a roller coaster ride. These two films are dark, guilty pleasure fun, the violence appearing quite theatrical, quick, and unrealistic. Some people, such as myself, enjoy this twisted fantasy cinema that cleverly balances gritty yet colorful darkness with much levity, including a good dose of camp. You fellow aficionados/appreciators of this high trash know who you are.

Mini Movie Review (NO TIME TO DIE)

I just watched the latest James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE— because I watch them all— and enjoyed it enough. I’ve always found Daniel Craig too rough and brutish in the lead role, though I do appreciate him as an actor.

The one scene that stands out for me in this finale film for Craig as 007 is when Bond and a few other supporting characters show up at Q’s flat. MI6’s tech guru Q, played here by the lovely, adorable Ben Whishaw, is preparing an intimate dinner for his as-yet-to-arrive boyfriend. Yma Sumac sings in the background. I wanted to crash this gathering then and there and tell Bond et al to promptly leave. Clearly, Whishaw’s Q and I share some same tastes. Also, I imagine the red wine he was serving was delicious, like him.

Sensitivity to Possible Embarrassment

I was just listening to NPR in my car to a show about people’s real life experiences of being embarrassed, including the long-term repercussions from these incidents. I could relate. A central aspect of most, if not all, extremely embarrassing situations is humiliation. I believe actual mistakes that lead to feeling embarrassed are generally forgivable/reparable. But, even when, say, a group of witnesses or even the public has long moved on from judging a person’s perceived mistakes/errors in judgment, the physical/somatic sensations of feeling humiliated remain, triggered forth again by some subtle reminder(s) in one’s environment or even simply by a passing thought.

A lot of us have survived intense embarrassment, often repeated occurrences of this emotional state, including by someone(s) very close to us in childhood, which results in a betrayal of trust. The world can then seem like humiliation lurks around the corner. You never forget because, as trauma specialist Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk states in his well-titled book, “THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE.” Even small embarrassing moments can and often do trigger a mental and physical cascade response to past, old humiliations. Through helpful somatic-oriented psychotherapy, these embedded-in-the-brain and body reactions can be shortened and de-intensified, but I don’t think they ever completely go away. I believe this is evolutionarily important. It is good to hold some memory so one can retain helpful knowledge of these past painful experiences and avoid repeating them as best as possible. Also, empathy for others is deepened, or at least the opportunity for this to happen is presented.

I’ve done all I can to distance myself in proximity and time from those in my past who humiliated me. I know others have also accomplished this for themselves. I’ve created a wonderful, stable life filled with supportive and neutral (such as strangers in my neighborhood) people. I’ve worked on healing myself deeply, including developing a level of self confidence (such as in my competence as an effective psychotherapist) I wasn’t quite sure I’d ever know. But, there is admittedly an edge of caution I still retain. This translates into avoiding more potential embarrassment that could arise in, say, speaking before large groups of people, something I’ve hardly ever done in my life. I remain quite sensitive to the possibility of being humiliated, albeit significantly less so than I used to feel.

If you or someone you know is particularly concerned about being embarrassed and, likely, humiliated, which is not exactly the same as worrying about what others think of you (which I largely could care less about except with a small few who I know well and love), please hold patience and compassion for that individual, including yourself. Sensitivity to embarrassment, especially the sting of humiliation, is a scar on the psyche, a reminder of one’s tender humanity.

Mini Movie Review (BIT)

The lesbian teenage vampire movie BIT (2019) was, to sum it up in a word, dope. I mean that in both a good and trashy sense. This was fun, thoughtful escapism with excellent feminist and inclusion-oriented messaging. I enjoyed a lot of the music and the young women’s sexy outfits. The lead vampiress of the gang (Diana Hopper as “Duke”) was quite lovely and kick ass. I like how imaginative campy sensibilities can still come through in contemporary movies– albeit on rare occasion– and not just in productions made before, say, 1975 (though, especially, during the 1940s through the 1960s). I also appreciated the portrayal of teenaged angst by the lead character Laurel (Nicole Maines). I felt empathy and compassion for her and a few others in the movie, such as Laurel’s sweet older brother Mark (James Paxton) and her awkward gay best friend Andy (Matt Pierce). I only wish we viewers saw a bit more of Andy in the story.

I’m not a fan of vampire movies in general, but I like the occasional ones with a good twist or two. BIT delivered enough twists, including the feminist lesbian one, which kept it interesting for me and not overly-formulaic. 

Mini Movie Review (GODZILLA VS. KONG)

For those who enjoy Kaiju movies, GODZILLA VS. KONG, released earlier this year, was a lot of fun. There were some great, colorful visual effects. I found myself liking both Godzilla and Kong. The indigenous island girl communicating with Kong through sign language added a sweet, humanizing touch. And I appreciated the message of nature balancing things out, including overcoming out of control man-made (yes, made by arrogant men) technology.

Movie Review (THE ISLAND)

As far as I’m concerned, THE ISLAND (2005), directed by Michael Bay and produced by DreamWorks, is a modern science fiction classic. I watched this movie very recently since last seeing it in a theater as a new release. The film, which takes place in 2019, now two years past, holds up well after the better part of two decades. Granted, some of the technology presented, such as flying cars and motorcycles, still has not come into existence. Because of this, I would have added another decade into the future for when the story takes place, but perhaps the production’s creators wanted to be more immediate for the sake of relevancy to real life issues. In any case, the bold, saturated colors and periodic closeups lend an effective immediacy, intensity, and intimacy to the movie. The antiseptic, straight-lined, futuristic sets are grimly fascinating and claustrophobic (like institutions of science can often be, I find), making it easy to empathize with the two protagonists.

THE ISLAND initially takes place in some mysterious massive facility where several clones of adult people reside and are heavily monitored by a staff of uniformed, often intrusive, workers. Ewan MacGregor plays Lincoln Six Echo, an especially bright and curious clone who begins to push against the hum drum existence doled out to him. Recurring, disturbing dreams also add to his restlessness. Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) is his close friend and love interest. These two and all of the other clones each await winning a frequently held lottery. The winner gets to leave the sterile facility and go to the Island, a supposedly idyllic place that is free of deadly contamination, unlike the rest of the earth, which has gone through some vaguely explained, human-caused apocalypse. When Jordan wins the lottery one day, Lincoln panics and quickly persuades her to escape with him. He suspects much nefariousness is afoot, including the likelihood that there is no actual Island.

The entire cast is very competent, with Steve Buscemi providing occasional comic relief as James McCord, a technician/mechanic employee of the facility who befriends Lincoln before the start of the film. He later aids the two main characters on their adventure. Sean Bean plays Dr. Bernard Merrick, the director of and ruthless mastermind behind the institution. He hires highly skilled mercenary and security specialist Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) to pursue and capture Lincoln and Jordan after they escape to the outside world. Much intrigue and action ensues. MacGregor’s precocious and thrill-seeking Lincoln Six Echo is a good foil to Johansson’s more innocent but feisty Jordan Two Delta. I felt they had believable sexual chemistry.

THE ISLAND is a powerful blend of dystopian screenplay and intriguing action movie which speaks to the superficiality and entitlement of glorified wealth culture and how dehumanization is a real danger/problem within capitalism, including when it is united with science. It isn’t often that speculative fiction in cinema is thought-provoking while being well-done overall in terms of acting, writing, and production values. THE ISLAND happens to be a screen drama that meets all these standards and entertained me throughout.