‘Spencer’ Goes in Deep and Claustrophobic on Princess Diana

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Spencer (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Stella Gonet, Richard Sammel

Director: Pablo Larraín

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for A Little Bit of Salty Language

Release Date: November 5, 2021 (Theaters)

If you go see the new Pablo Larraín-directed moving picture Spencer, there is one scene I can pretty much guarantee you won’t be able to forget. I’m talking about the moment when Princess Diana (as played by Kristen Stewart) announces that she is going to masturbate. Self-pleasure is not typically a topic broached in polite company, and the British royal family is perhaps the most stifling of polite company. That moment also sticks out because it’s the only time that Diana says anything like that during the whole movie, and you get the sense that it’s the first time she’s said anything like that in the past twenty years or so, or quite possibly her entire life. It’s hard to break loose when someone’s always watching.

Larraín is adept at crafting claustrophobic environments, and the one in Spencer is like an alternate reality that everyone except Diana has accepted as normal. The action takes place in the days leading up to Christmas, and let’s just say it’s not the most festive atmosphere. Timothy Spall shows up as a new employee whose job it is to “watch,” and I would venture to guess that he was transferred from the Overlook Hotel. He has a knack for always showing up during Diana’s most vulnerable moments, like when she’s binging on sweets in the kitchen in an episode of bulimia. This scene isn’t played as a moment of concern, or an offer for treatment, or much of anything really, except perhaps as a reminder to remain on schedule.

I found the toxic environment constructed in Spencer compelling, but its portrait of the woman at its center didn’t strike me as especially insightful. It didn’t necessarily have to be that way to be successful, but we do spend a lot of time with Diana, so it would be nice to get to know her (or at least the version of her that Larraín and Stewart have created) beyond the public figure. Although, perhaps that lack of clarity was by design. Maybe she was supposed to be opaque all along. If that’s the case, then mission accomplished. But as a viewing experience, it makes for a movie that’s difficult to connect to, though interesting to consider.

Spencer is Recommended If You Like: Ghosts stalking the royal abodes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Christmas Dishes

‘Underwater’ Delivers Deep-Sea Monsters, While Merely Hinting at Something More Insidious

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CREDIT: Alan Markfield/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Mamoudou Athie, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: William Eubank

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Attacks On and From Sci-Fi Horror Monsters

Release Date: January 10, 2020

The opening of Underwater promises intense pressure and pitch black scenarios, but honestly? It could’ve had even more pressure and been even more pitch black. That’s not to say that those prone to extreme claustrophobia should give this one a chance. It is, after all, about deep-sea researchers who have to walk to safety across the ocean floor after their vessel becomes damaged by an apparent earthquake. But it’s almost a little too bright, a little too out in the open. The creepy-crawlies that turn out to be lurking in their path are effectively monstrous, but the point of escape appears clearly within reach such that I was never fully worried. Maybe not everyone would make it through alive, but surely some of them would. The ingenuity and grit devised for getting around the beasts are fairly satisfying, but I found myself craving, or at least anticipating, more danger and mystery.

Going right along with the vibe of shining more light than expected, both the opening and end credits inform us that this misadventure will remain very much classified when all is said and done. But the thing is, we’re seeing the classified story. This whole movie is a peak behind the redaction! So why let us know that there is a cover-up when we’re already within the covers? Perhaps there is meant to be an implication, in thoroughly true blue X-Files spirit, that in the real world there are actually terrors in the deep running amok that most folks have no idea about because certain people have decided we’re not supposed to know about any of that. Alas, all that conspiracy flavor is merely the thinnest spread of icing. But by golly, if you’re going to tease us about what your monster is really all about, then please follow through with it.

Underwater is Recommended If You Like: Overlord, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The X-Files but compressed

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Stuff Bunnies

‘Charlie’s Angels’ Doesn’t Do Much to Justify Its Existence in 2019, Except When It Gets Really Silly

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CREDIT: Chiabella James/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Deafening Explosions and a Lot of Flexible Legwork

Release Date: November 15, 2019

Globetrotting in 2019: who needs it? I, for one, cannot say I find it particularly necessary after watching the 2019 edition of Charlie’s Angels. As three gadget-toting, butt-kicking, espionage-deploying young women chase a McGuffin around multiple continents, what do they, or any person of any age for that matter, have to offer us that we haven’t been offered before? Maybe something new is theoretically out there somewhere, but what I see are mostly a bunch of competently (and frequently goofily) staged action scenes. I’ve never previously seen any Charlie’s Angels TV episode or movie in its entirety, but the main feeling this one gave me was a nagging sense of “been there, done that.” (Although, it is worth noting, there is nary a whiff of the “three little girls” paternalistic energy of the original.)

Despite that shortcoming, I suspect that Elizabeth Banks, who wrote and directed and also stars as Bosley (or rather, one of the Bosleys), is not necessarily too worried by the plot being overly paint-by-numbers. As long as our new batch of Angels (Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Sabinska) get to show off some personality, there can be a feature-length rasion d’être. For the most part, they just go where the story demands that they go, but occasionally there are flashes of extreme goofball energy. Naomi Scott wears a fantastic red dress because why not? K-Stew makes “beep boop” noises while cracking a safe just for the hell of it. And then during the credits there is an onslaught of cameos: a few make obvious sense for this movie, but most of them are breathtakingly, delightfully random. So at least there’s a little bit of fun to get these angels flying.

Charlie’s Angels is Recommended If You Like: Flirting with Noah Centineo, Original pop soundtracks

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Bosleys

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Kristen Stewart/Coldplay

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CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Hello world, it’s time for me to post my review of the fifth episode of the forty-fifth season of Saturday Night Live. Kristen Stewart is hosting for the second time ever. I thought she was promoting Seberg, which is looking like it’ll be a pretty small release, even as far as small releases go. But then I remembered that she’s also going to be in the latest edition of Charlie’s Angels, which comes out soon. And Coldplay (the coldest of bands? certainly not the most playful) is the musical guest for, wow, the sixth time. That’ll have you thinking about the passage of time.


This Is a Movie Review: ‘Lizzie’ Brings the Queer Subtext to the Fore in the Latest Telling of Ms. Borden’s Ax Murders

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Saban Films and Roadside Attractions

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Denis O’Hare, Kim Dickens

Director: Craig William Macneill

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Brutal Deadly Violence and Practical Nudity

Release Date: September 14, 2018 (Limited)

Lizzie is in some ways a throwback to an era when queer attraction was subtextual and coded and never explicitly acknowledged. Except that this time there’s a lot more nudity, which would seem to defeat the purpose, save for the fact that this lack of clothes is not about sex but rather avoiding the evidence of blood stains. Otherwise, the structure fits, as this telling of the Lizzie Borden story plays up the angle of an affair between Lizzie and her family’s housemaid without ever uttering the word “lesbian,” instead opting for whispers and implications and the occasional “abomination.”

The real Borden was accused and ultimately acquitted of ax-murdering her father and stepmother in 1892 Massachusetts. While popular perception has treated her as the no-doubt-about-it culprit, much of the case remains officially uncertain, lending fictional retellings a lot of leeway in how they approach the material. Director Craig William Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass choose to emphasize psychological abuse from Borden’s father Andrew that gradually wore Lizzie down to murderous intent. Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie as a perfectly dignified and intelligent individual who cannot quite handle the cognitive dissonance of her father insisting that she in fact has no place in polite society. As Andrew, Jamey Sheridan actually finds some tender notes, but his foundation of disgust is just too implacable.

Of course mention must be made of Kristen Stewart as the Bordens’ maid, Bridget Sullivan. Most of the family call her “Maggie” instead, which might be an archaic form of discrimination I was previously unfamiliar with (any turn of the 20th Century American historians, please let me know). Her bond with Lizzie is forged a great deal by the latter making it a point to actually call Bridget “Bridget.” Alas, but unsurprisingly, their time together is not meant to last, partly because of their power differential, partly because of the fallout of co-conspiracy, but mostly because society would force them to remain a secret. Yet in the end that suppressive atmosphere is a double-edged sword: it allows Lizzie to get away with murder because her peers cannot believe that someone from such a respectable family could commit such a heinous act. If they knew her true orientation, perhaps they would have come to a different conclusion. That’s a warped sort of privilege that this version of Lizzie could never fully psychically bear.

Lizzie is Recommended If You Like: Twisty/twisted/stomach-twisting feminist narratives

Grade: 3 out of 5 Axe Chops

SNL Review February 4, 2017: Kristen Stewart/Alessia Cara

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Kristen Stewart" Episode 1717 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Kristen Stewart, Vanessa Bayer during the "Totinos" sketch on January 31, 2017 -- (Photo by: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Kristen Stewart” Episode 1717 — Pictured: (l-r) Host Kristen Stewart, Vanessa Bayer during the “Totinos” sketch on January 31, 2017 — (Photo by: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC)

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2017.

Love It

Meet Cute – In this filmed piece, Kristen Stewart and Pete Davidson have the titular encounter at a coffee shop, and the unlikelihood of an immediate development into a relationship is examined, poked, and prodded. It is not really the case that in most cinematic meet-cutes someone fails to give out enough relevant information, but it is true that they are just too fast to truly be meaningful. So we should all relate to Pete’s struggle on a spiritual (not literal) level. Oh, and his confusion over how to spell Manhattan (it’s 2 T’s, not 2 D’s) is a marvelous detail.

When Robert Mugabe earns the big applause, as in the Oval Office Phone Calls cold open, you know you’ve got something … let’s call it “special.”