When you look at the premise for a film like The Whale, one can only imagine how this premise could be difficult to pull off successfully. In the hands of a filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky, much suspicions could be raised, but he manages to pull off what might be his most hopeful film thus far. Perhaps that’s not to say he doesn’t find himself potentially dragging his viewers back into a territory of simple misery porn when the central focus is Brendan Fraser’s character and his deathly obesity, yet the case being presented is far more thoughtful. And like Requiem for a Dream was for many, The Whale can be tough – but when Darren Aronofsky is at his best, he shows himself to be a wholly thoughtful filmmaker. This is where I find The Whale lands.
It’s weird to call an adaptation of a long running, moderately popular show a sleeper but that’s where we are. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a throwback to the old school simple comedy theaters used to run on hot summer days. It’s modest with low stakes and a very chill energy level. Yet is it weird I enjoyed this more than almost every other franchise movie we got this year. Marvel hasn’t touched the heights of a family trying to float a single payment.
Spencer is a film that tells you it is a true story, albeit a fable – maybe the most fitting way in which it can be set up by way of Pablo Larraín. Much like Jackie, Larraín doesn’t opt for a conventional approach to a biopic, this time choosing to give an idea of what was going through her head. Knowing the image that Princess Diana left behind in the wake of her death, it’s a risky way to have her story told, especially with how the British consciousness can be very protective of the Royal Family. Through this, we finally get to see Diana as a human, and that’s only one aspect to Spencer that allows it to really click with me, more so than most other Larraín films to this date have done.
Telling a story that takes place over a Christmas holiday, Spencer starts with the most fitting manner, we’re seeing Princess Diana being lost and needing to find her way back. This new iteration of Princess Diana’s story features Kristen Stewart in the title role, shows Diana in a cold marriage together with Prince Charles, who is played by Jack Farthing. It would be easy enough to imagine that this fictionalized account of Princess Diana happens some time within the final years of her life, facing constant pressure as a result of her stature imprisoning her. Through this perspective, it allows the audience to connect with Princess Diana like she was one of us and the results are wonderful.
Much of Spencer is built around fantasy as we’re seeing Diana’s life happening right in front of us. Everywhere she goes, she cannot escape the image that being a part of the Royal Family has created for her. We’re seeing her unhappy with the way her life is being controlled, but we also get a chance to see Princess Diana not as another part of the Royal Family – which already made me come on board with how Larraín chooses to tell a story about her. Every moment of Spencer is shot beautifully, through the beautiful camerawork of DP Claire Mathon, but what’s most captivating about Spencer is just how Larraín gives us the inside look at her frame of mind, akin to a horror movie.
But I think what really sells you into the approach comes from Kristen Stewart’s performance; to say that this is a career best is only underselling her efforts here. She’s committed to this role as Princess Diana in a way that I could only ever imagine Stewart could – but there’s a particularly haunting quality to the way she embodies Princess Diana. It’s haunting in the sense that you feel the impending doom coming her way, from simply wanting to be freed, yet we don’t know what from. This isn’t a film about the tragedy we know and associate Princess Diana with, yet it’s knowing this that still gives us a sense of what she wants to avoid. It’s hard enough for me to imagine anyone other than Stewart bringing any of this into such a role, if anything, it just solidifies my belief that Stewart is one among the best actresses working today.
I can’t say that a lot of this always worked for me though – while I admire the way this story unfolds, there’s still something that had always kept me from truly loving this. Much like Jackie, a lot of what doesn’t work for me in Spencer comes down to its screenplay. Written by Steven Knight, whose previous credits include Dirty Pretty Things (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), Eastern Promises, and Locke, what doesn’t work for me in Spencer comes from the way Knight seems to keep things a tad too on the nose. It never really does the movie any favours, especially when it comes to seeing Princess Diana as a person. Much as I enjoyed seeing Stewart playing the role, I found that it became difficult to really become invested in this side of Princess Diana, but Knight doesn’t write her in a way that showcases what’s going through her mind – as all that doom is external. With Larraín choosing to frame this moment in Diana’s life as a psychological drama, Knight’s screenplay never seems to stretch to show her as dynamic.
Nonetheless, I think there’s a whole lot to love all around – because Spencer is an exquisitely crafted film. It doesn’t feel like a movie that’s bound to the romanticize the Royal Family, especially in its portrait of unending doom from being part of such, but that great tragedy before knowing Princess Diana’s fate is what keeps its best moments incredibly effective. This is maybe the most that I’ve found that I was able to connect with a Pablo Larraín film, for like the best biopics should (and many fail to do), it brings you closer to Princess Diana not as a history lesson, but as a person. Together with a career-best role from Kristen Stewart and Jonny Greenwood’s score, Spencer isn’t a film you’ll want to miss.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via NEON.
Directed by Pablo Larraín Screenplay by Steven Knight Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín, Jonas Dornbach, Paul Webster, Pablo Larraín, Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade Starring Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris Release Date: November 5, 2021 Running Time: 111 minutes
Leigh Whannell’s spin on the classic H. G. Wells story initially started off as another entry in what was supposed to be Universal’s failed “Dark Universe,” which sought to bring together many of cinema’s most iconic horror monsters into their own shared universe. But after The Mummy had failed and said universe has only remained shelved ever since, Blumhouse took interest in reviving this project – turning it into a small-budget horror like all their most notable releases and what came forth from that is more than just a new contextualization of the Wells tale. The Invisible Man is every bit as terrifying as it can also be fun, but seeing what Whannell could do with the Wells classic to adapt it for a modern audience only further strengthens the film’s impact.
The mysterious feature directorial debut of Mati Diop, Atlantics garnered the Senegalese-French actress the Grand Prix over at the Cannes Film Festival. In fact, her premiering of the film over at the festival set off an important first: she became the first black woman to direct a film featured in competition at the festival. There are many ways in which one can describe how mysterious Atlantics is unafraid to present itself to be, yet that’s also what makes this film so beautiful too. Every moment of this movie carries something wonderful within its subtleties, and as it slowly transforms into another film beyond your expectations, the results are a sight to behold.
The third feature film of Trey Edward Shults, Waves is a family drama in the veins of his previous films yet one that also punches down at your emotions without any sort of compromise whatsoever. If anything else best captures what makes the experience of watching Waves every bit as powerful as it is, the title alone would already represent the sort of dynamics between family and friends that you’re seeing onscreen as they take on differing forms from start to finish. There’s no filmmaker working today with the same sort of eye for creating family dramas like Trey Edward Shults, and seeing how he adapts his distinctive style to different forms of storytelling will forever be fascinating to me.
Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire, as advertised extensively, is a different sort of coming-of-age film but as one would know from the sense of humour that Waititi’s career has been built upon, there’s also a whole lot to be admired about the risks that Waititi could already find himself facing when tackling a subject of this sort. There are a whole load of laughs to be had with watching Jojo Rabbit, like all the best of Taika Waititi’s past films but this is where he finds himself taking on a subject of yet another sort of scope. This is a film that’s clearly been made through the eyes of someone whose own people had been so visibly damaged in the past, but given the sort of risks that there’s another point where he clearly wants to broaden the reach of the film’s message by trying to reach out to a younger audience. To a certain extent, it works perfectly – because there’s not a single moment in Jojo Rabbit where I didn’t find myself laughing my heart out. For a movie about the Hitler Youth, it’s very funny, charming, and even sweet too, a nice crowdpleaser for what it’s worth.
Clive Barker’s The Forbidden is one of the most tragic stories in his own bibliography, but seeing how Bernard Rose had adapted it to the screen in 1992 is a whole different story. Candyman carries everything that made Clive Barker’s stories so wonderful, but it’s also quite stunning to see how the film’s social commentary can play in today’s age, especially given the nature of its concept. This isn’t so much a horror story all about the impact that urban legends have upon the communities where they originate, but also the ways in which generational racism has bled its way into the minds of those who have still suffered at its hands. Yet knowing what it is that the Candyman himself has represented for the many people who’ve believed in him and been terrified of his existence over the years, Clive Barker and Bernard Rose have not only formed one of the defining horror films of the 1990’s but also one of the most tragic stories of its own sort, given the circumstances behind the birth of his legendary status.
When Toy Story 4 was announced, many fans have also been speculating on what worth would a fourth film have following the conclusion of Toy Story 3 with Andy’s time now having come to an end. But of course with the stakes having been raised incredibly high up by Toy Story 3, the initial proposal of Toy Story 4 as a romantic comedy with Woody and Bo Peep would already have been met with negative feedback, even after her absence in Toy Story 3. But nevertheless, the film had came around anyway and maybe there’s so much more that we can imagine to what it feels like to be a toy than simply being passed around from Andy to Bonnie at the very end of Toy Story 3? With all of this being set in mind, there’s no way that Toy Story 4 should work as well as it does but it still finds itself a worthy entry into Pixar’s long-running saga, and as a way for them to bookend the decade, just as they started it off with Toy Story 3, it feels more than just satisfying enough. I’m still left wondering what more could an entry like this have done in the grand scheme of things but if this is how the Toy Story series finally must come to its own conclusion, I’m more than fine with it.
Rocketman isn’t so much a biopic about Elton John as it is a film that indulges into the fantasies that have defined his creative process, while telling his story in a digestible manner. But at that, what director Dexter Fletcher presents to the screen in Rocketman is everything that is so unapologetically Elton John at that, without ever shying away from the roughest parts of his lifestyle – for he notably said that he never lived a PG-13 life as one of the world’s best-selling musicians. Yet it’s always the best parts of the film that remain every bit as glorious as they possibly could ever be, whether it be the sex, drugs, or just living at the height of one’s own life within the 1970’s, all creating what isn’t only the perfect portrait of Elton John as an artist but also as a person. It’s impressive enough that Dexter Fletcher manages to make a film that celebrates everything Elton John had made himself out to be from beginning to end, because there’s a point to which you’ll find yourself feeling like you aren’t watching a music biopic anymore. Putting it lightly, I think it’s gonna be a long, long time before we get another film of this sort – because even if it may not be perfect it still soars up higher than most modern biopics would.
You must be logged in to post a comment.