‘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

Wow, ‘The Green Knight’ Sure Might Knock Your Head Loose

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The Green Knight (CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/A24)

Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Erin Kellyman

Director: David Lowery

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and a Little Bit of Sex Within a Fantastical Swirl

Release Date: July 30, 2021 (Theaters)

My experience of watching The Green Knight was just moment after moment that had me going, “I was not expecting THAT.” It starts off pretty quickly that way: Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) beheads the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), but the Green Knight keeps right on talking. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. If you’re familiar with the source material, this inciting incident won’t be surprising at all, but for the rest of us, it won’t exactly feel telegraphed. Then there’s the fact that this tale takes place around Christmas, which certainly surprised me as well. Although perhaps it shouldn’t have, considering that “green” is in the title and much of the poster is bright red. But other than that, this movie doesn’t feel very Christmas-y. Though I suppose that centuries ago the holiday was celebrated differently. (“Why not have a release date in December instead of July?,” I wonder out loud.)

The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sits at a weird place in terms of cultural recognizability. It’s part of Arthurian legend, which is among the most enduringly popular mythologies in the English language. But this particular tale isn’t typically told in the most well-known adaptations. If you’re a fan of the likes of Camelot, The Sword in the Stone, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you might be familiar with the name “Gawain,” but his encounter with a tricky tree-man hybrid could be totally undiscovered. It’s a trip to first encounter it via David Lowery’s highly stylized and uncompromising vision.

I’m willing to bet my sword that anyone who has read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight before seeing this movie also found themselves saying multiple times, “I was not expecting THAT.” (But they would have been saying it while reading.) There’s no way in Camelot that Lowery can take all the credit for every fantastical twist of gamesmanship and illogic. What is the Green Knight’s deal anyway? When he gets beheaded, he insists that Gawain must come find him one year hence to meet a similar fate. Is this a test of honor, and if so, how? I was not expecting that much confusion.

But it kept coming! Was Alicia Vikander playing two different characters? She must have been, as her personalities were so vastly different. I was not expecting such vagueness with her identity. Nor was I expecting an up-close shot of a very intimate moment. The mature themes and capriciousness in a medieval fantasy aren’t surprises in and of themselves, but their presentation in this version were a lot more surreal than I was prepared for. I’m still processing what I’ve witnessed, and I’m not sure that process will ever be complete, but I appreciate the singularity of the vision.

The Green Knight is Recommended If You Like: Embracing the weirdest and most inscrutable elements of mythology

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Beheadings

‘The King’ is a Slog Through Shakespearean Henriad History

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CREDIT: Netflix

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Tom Glynn-Carney

Director: David Michôd

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Messy War Combat

Release Date: October 11, 2019 (Limited Theatrically)/November 1, 2019 (Streaming on Netflix)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends? It’s awfully muddy in that breach. That seems to be the big advantage of turning Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2!) and Henry V into a movie in 2019: you can make it as muddy as you need it to be! And director David Michôd sure wanted that breach to be muddy. And Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script with Michôd) won’t let us forget it. Not that we would have been able to miss it anyway.

I majored in English literature in my undergraduate days, so watching The King is like revisiting old friends for me, but excessively grim versions. I know right from the get-go that wary-of-the-crown Prince Hal will soon enough become King Henry V, Beloved War Hero. But even if I’d never read one verse of Shakespeare, I would have been able to figure that out easily enough. That’s how these narratives tend to play out after all, and also Timothée Chalamet is so hot right now. But that predictability is not necessarily a problem. Shakespeare did not establish his reputation on twisty plots, but rather on wonderfully poetic language. Alas, The King does not have the wit to match. I of course do not demand nor expect that every new Shakespeare adaptation feature iambic pentameter, but if there is going to be as much dialogue as there is in The King, it would be nice if it were at least somewhat exciting. But alas, it seems that war is not only hell, it’s also boring.

As we make our way through the muck into the Battle of Agincourt, The King eventually comes alive somewhat in the form of Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin, the French side’s secret weapon, at least in terms of charisma. He seems to have been warped by the warring status quo between France and England into some sort of almost inhuman, devious little sprite. He is less interested in victory or survival than he is into sucking out the life force of his rivals. I haven’t seen any of those Twilight movies, so for me, this feels like the first time Pattinson has ever played a vampire on screen. If only the other combatants had the verve to match.

The King is Recommended If You Like: Shakespeare minus the poetry

Grade: 2 out of 5 Chainmail Suits

This Is a Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is to Ethan Hunt what Spectre is to James Bond, but not that (transparently) insane and mostly successful. But what I really want to talk about is this idea that Hunt is irreplaceable. The conjecture that there is only person for the most dangerous jobs in the world is certainly compelling, but is it healthy? If we’re talking about how it applies to reality, certainly not. For the sake of the world and for the sake of their personal lives, experts and superheroes should have backups and successors in place. But when we’re talking about the cinematic medium, the calculus is a little different … or is it?

M:I isn’t the only spy and/or insane stunt franchise that has been killing it in the past 20 years, which means we’ve got our backups. And when Tom Cruise finally calls it quits (in a billion years or so), maybe a worthy Ethan Hunt successor will somehow run into our hearts. In the universe where the IMF exists, Hunt really shouldn’t place the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. But since this world is a fictional place, it’s working as it’s supposed to.

I give Mission: Impossible – Fallout 4 Cliffhangs out of 5 Shifting Allegiances.