‘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

This Is A Movie Review: Aardman Kicks It Stone Age-Style with ‘Early Man’

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CREDIT: Lionsgate

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

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, Nick Park

Director: Nick Park

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG for Stone/Rock/Boulder-Based Cartoon Physical Humor

Release Date: February 16, 2018

Early Man is the sort of film that delivers exactly what you expect and hope it would deliver. It is the latest stop-motion animated effort from Aardman, and it is just as understated, British, and charming as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep. There might be a bit more physical humor this time around, though. It does take place in the Stone Age, after all, so it makes sense that it would feature a significant number of conks on the head.

This is one of those movies that presupposes that subsequent historical periods existed side by side against each other as opposing tribes. It may be true that the Bronze Age followed the Stone Age, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t go down with bronze-toting brutes declaring to a tribe of cavemen, “The Stone Age is SO OVER! Bronze is where it’s at now!” Of course, historical accuracy is not the point here, so these are not complaints, just descriptions of goofiness. It is worth noting, though, that ahistorical larks like Early Man like to pretend that they are historically accurate, thus why we get very precise setting-establishing subtitles like “neo-Pleistocene Age, near Manchester, around lunchtime.” It’s all in good fun!

Early Man is essentially an underdog sports movie, as the fight between the Stonies and the Bronzers comes down to a soccer match (or football, since we’re in England). After a Bronze Age army overruns the Stone Age village, caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) bumbles his way into the Bronze city and then brokers a deal with Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) in which the two societies will face off on the pitch to determine who gets to retain residence of the village. As the caveman are totally unfamiliar with the sport, this leads to a predictably silly training montage. Also fitting in with the tropes of the genre is Goona (Maisie Williams), a Bronze Age vendor who defects to help the caveman, since she is not a fan of the big bad team winning all the time without emphasizing teamwork or allowing women into its ranks.

The character design would be grotesque if it were live action, but the Aardman style renders it cute, though still weird, but adorably so. The cavemen are all buck teeth and porcine snouts, while the Bronzers sport skinny heads and exaggerated midsections. The biggest fun comes from the puns based in hindsight and the retrofitted modern technology. Noting that their tribe are early risers, Dug reminds his chief (Timothy Spall) “we’re early men,” and for all you hooligans out there, there is indeed a team named “Early Man United.” But bringing me the most joy has got to be the “instant replay,” in which plays are reenacted with crude figures on a board along the sideline. Obviously this is not the actual origin of replay, but it is fun to spend an hour and a half within a world in which it is.

Early Man is Recommended If You Like: Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep Movie

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Buck Teeth

This Is a Movie Review: Affairs Are Revealed and Philosophical Rejoinders Are Dispatched at ‘The Party’

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CREDIT: Roadside Attractions

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

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas

Director: Sally Potter

Running Time: 71 Minutes

Rating: R for Pretentious Strong Language and Furtive Cocaine Bumps

Release Date: February 16, 2018

If you want to make the case that The Party is a worthwhile viewing experience, you must remember that Patricia Clarkson is playing a cynical realist and that Bruno Ganz, as her estranged significant other, is playing a spiritualist. (There is another couple made up of an idealist and a materialist, but their philosophies don’t make as much of an impression.) Now you may be thinking, what is a fight between academic theories doing in a movie that is ostensibly about people? And initially, as I realized that wow, this is really going directly after that lecture hall crowd, I was just as disturbed as you may be. But it soon becomes clear enough that I do not especially care what is going on with these people and therefore pompous piffle like commenting about behaving in a “20th-century postmodern post-post-feminist sort of way” actually serves to lend this whole affair some personality.

The occasion for the titular get-together is Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) appointment to shadow minister of health as a member of the British opposition party. As she is getting ready in the kitchen and chatting with April (Clarkson), her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is in the living room, staring vacantly into the distance of the backyard, while Gottfried (Ganz) observes him with curiosity. Some more guests arrive: Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who announce that their in vitro fertilization efforts have finally taken; and topping it all off is Tom (Cillian Murphy), with promises that arriving later for dessert will be his s.o. Marianne, who remains a topic of tension-spiked discussion throughout.

Then, as cinematic soirees tend to go, secrets are revealed and grievances are aired, much of it having to do with affairs. Ultimately, it appears that everyone has slept with the same person or slept with someone who has slept with that someone. Confined to the location of Janet and Bill’s home, The Party often feels like a play, and a one-act one at that, clocking in at just over 70 minutes. There are not many stylistic touches that require this drama to be on film instead of on a stage, save for the black-and-white photography (which does not serve much thematic purpose anyway). At least the short runtime is appreciated. The tone is too caustic for my tastes to be bearable for too long, and since there are no genuine characters, just a bunch of types, it helps that it makes its point quickly and then makes a hard exit.

The Party seems to be commenting on its own shallowness in the banter between April and Gottfried, as she constantly upbraids him for his frequent use of aphorisms, while she continues to make smug, pretentious remarks that are not helpful in any practical way. But Gottfried wins me over right away, because he is just happy-go-lucky while spouting clichés even as his partner constantly insults him. April, however, is too cold to embrace at first. But once it is clear that the film does not exactly agree with what she is saying, you can enjoy her for her ridiculousness and for the relish with which Clarkson spits such venom.

The Party is Recommended If You Like: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Attending university philosophy lectures

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Burnt Pastries