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 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.


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.

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.

Mini Movie Review (SNOWPIERCER)

The off beat science fiction action film SNOWPIERCER (2013) is a gritty and fantastical post apocalypse allegory which effectively explores classism and subsequent other issues such as dehumanization and substance addiction. Chris Evans and the rest of the cast perform excellently, all within the setting of an enormous train that houses the remainder of humanity in a world enduring a human-made second ice age in the year 2031. The script is intriguing and movingly written. And Tilda Swinton is always fun to watch. She portrays quite a smug yet entertaining villainess here. The colorful and often almost surreal visuals reminded me of the 1990s movies DELICATESSEN and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. The pace is fast and never dull, the story thought provoking.

Mini Movie Review (YVES SAINT LAURENT)

I just watched the 2014 French film YVES SAINT LAURENT. I enjoyed all the beautiful clothes, faces, artwork, music, and interiors. Actor Pierre Niney as fashion designer YSL was excellent, conveying a rare mix of ethereal elegance, nervous intensity, and coy sexiness. He looked a lot like Monsieur Saint Laurent. The rest of the cast was very good. I felt like I was partaking in a visual feast and party without having to deal with consequences of overindulgence like poor YSL did with drinks, drugs, and sex. What an imbalanced genius, a beautiful outsider who brilliantly created an elite insider niche for himself.

Movie Review (WONDER WOMAN 1984)

I finally watched WONDER WOMAN 1984 (released here in the U.S.A. last Christmas). I was prepared to be unimpressed, annoyed, confused, and disappointed. While the movie is certainly not as good as its 2017 prequel, which had a far more archetypal feel to it, I thoroughly enjoyed this newest installment of Gal Gadot starring as one of my favorite comic book super hero(ine)s. She looks as beautiful and poised as ever here, amidst a hair-brained storyline and fun 1984 time period props and settings. The latter two things were nostalgic for me. I graduated from high school that year, so I felt particularly demographically targeted as a viewer. Back in actual 1984, I admittedly enjoyed wearing clothes in the style of some of the outfits worn by a few of the male characters, including Chris Pine as Steve Trevor (come back from the dead due to some goofy ancient magic). The incidental ‘80s pop music and scenes in a shopping mall had me pleasantly reminiscing.

Comic actress Kristen Wiig is amusing to watch, ramping up the campiness of the film wonderfully (and I love camp). She is a good foil to the often earnest and proper Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. As the character Barbara Minerva when she is in villainess mode, Ms. Wiig is mostly not to be taken seriously (including in her final costume, which made me think of humanoid feline characters in the 2019 box office bomb CATS), except in a particular scene when she first embraces her dark side. That is believable and relatable, not only for many women abuse survivors, I imagine, but for anyone who’s ever been harshly mistreated in some way. Thoughts of revenge are natural to have, even though more people than not know better than to act on them.

There are a few actions that I found to be verging on nonsensical. Wonder Woman develops the ability of flight simply by finally believing she can combined, it seems, with the help of her magical golden lasso. I read some years worth of original Wonder Woman comics and watched the 1970s TV show with Lynda Carter. Nowhere in those narratives of the lovely heroine do I remember her ever having the ability to fly. I suppose the creators of this latest production wanted to make her even more superhuman/goddess-like. Perhaps I’m too attached to the old canon about this character, but I personally found this added on ability to be superfluous, unnecessary. That said, despite this inconsistency with how I’ve always known Wonder Woman to be, I didn’t actually mind seeing Ms. Prince fly because she looked so beautiful and graceful up in the clouds, her long dark hair blowing in the wind. And there’s likely the real reason she was portrayed flying: this was yet another way to showcase her lovely image. It’s all about appearances above all else.

The other occurrence that made little sense was how Wonder Woman’s invisible jet airplane comes to be. This is presented as a last-minute, all too convenient development done with seemingly little thought or effort. More magical powers are added onto the main character, more superfluousness. However, by not describing the actual scene I am referring to, I leave it to viewers to judge for themselves if I am on the mark here or not. Ultimately, it need not matter, since, as I’ve already implied, this film is simply meant to be visually fun and pleasing fluff, not a narrative with deep consistency or sense.

I was able to follow the story without confusion, though I’m sure it helped that I didn’t give the ridiculous, unoriginal plot much thought. I sat back and enjoyed all the slick sets, clothes, music, special effects, and Ms. Gadot’s goddess-like screen presence. The storyline about an ancient magical wishing stone getting into the wrong hands and eventually resulting in worldwide chaos hardly matters. It’s been similarly, repeatedly done in blockbuster movies anyways, very formulaic. This is a thrill-ride piece of cinema — exactly what I figured it would be. That said, I find myself in middle age becoming more of a softie in response to schmaltz and sentimentality, both of which are especially served up in a few scenes toward the end of the show. And that very schmaltz and sentiment redeems the film somewhat out of its often lame and silly narrative. Watching on screen how love and truth overcome crass materialism, narcissism, and unbridled power over others feels timely, encouraging, and refreshingly idealistic in this era of cynicism, selfishness, and lack of honesty by so many. I’ll take these feel good moments— even if unreal and fantastical— where I can, like breaths of fresh air. I’m thankful WONDER WOMAN 1984 could provide some for me. Sometimes, it’s good to just have a bit of mindless fun.

(Note: It’s important to watch the movie well into the end credits in order to see a special treat. At least it was for me and it certainly is/will be for many others.)