‘Spencer’ TIFF Review: The Unseen Tragedy of a Beloved Figure

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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

‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ Review: A Revised History Lesson from Aaron Sorkin

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The latest directorial effort from Aaron Sorkin finds itself within those same lines as Sorkin’s television work compared to his prior film Molly’s Game. It’s easy enough to admire Sorkin for his rapid-fire dialogue because it’s often very entertaining to listen to, but ever since Sorkin started directing his own films it seemed too clear that perhaps his style of writing going out completely unfiltered only hinders him even more. But even as he lets his pen direct his actors, it seems like his own politics take over the real story he wishes to tell – which shows itself all too conveniently in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

In telling the story of the protests that took place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Aaron Sorkin brings the viewers into a sense of that chaos that could only be felt within the days of unrest at a revolutionary point in American history. Everywhere they go, the chant “the whole world is watching!” follows the viewers, resonating all through the years later and leading into the present, as perfect a time as ever for Sorkin to have released a film of this sort. Sorkin isn’t one to waste time bringing you into the chaos that came forth within the days of unrest that have followed the protests, but there also comes a point where seeing all of this strictly through Sorkin’s eyes feels numbing.

At his best, Sorkin has been able to find a perfect place for his fast-moving dialogue so that it becomes a part of the reason you stick with the characters you see onscreen, but at worst, he doesn’t really seem to let these people onscreen speak the way we feel they would because they’re being run through how Sorkin talk sounds. Which wouldn’t be so much of a bad thing, especially when it feels too characteristic of their mannerisms in a case like The Social Network, but with The Trial of the Chicago 7 it seems to take over how these events unfolded – let alone how these people who were part of that trial had talked, creating a neutered picture of the very ideas that led into what took place then.

With a cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eddie Redmayne among many, Sorkin brings out great work from most players across the board. Mark Rylance and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are always a thrill to watch in their respective roles, but the more you listen to Sorkin’s walk-and-talk writing style taking over there comes a point where it feels like the performers are reading lines in a manner that also makes them come off as calculated on every frame. This is evident in the performances of Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Frank Langella – and while it’s never boring to listen to people speak the way Sorkin writes them, he doesn’t ever let them tell this story in a way that it feels like you were ever part of that chaos.

Though I am not against the dramatization of history in order to create a picture that would be tangible for the viewers, the ways in which Aaron Sorkin seems to embrace that neutered political perspective on these events seem to lead into the film’s biggest downfall. What Sorkin shows as a triumphant moment within the climax only presents itself as a naive view of how things can get better within reality, then it all comes undone by the blocks of text afterwards. With Daniel Pemberton’s music searing at this moment, it seems like a purely Sorkin scene – in the worst ways too. It just feels disingenuous, even for the sake of creating dramatic effect, because by that point it leaves one questioning how much does Sorkin truly care about the impact that this case had on American history in the years to come since.

Part of me wonders if I’ll ever see that same sense of excitement from a new Aaron Sorkin project coming by, but I’m finding that as he starts to go unfiltered behind the camera as the director, his worst tendencies as a writer start to show themselves more and it feels less like listening to his characters as people. It makes The Trial of the Chicago 7 play out like a history lesson that was filtered in such a way that a white liberal audience would tell it, supposedly afraid to take on a stance that might be too “radical” for them now. At worst, you have another Sorkin project that’ll be the talk of awards season, but with him supposedly playing by ways of a Spielberg drama, you know exactly what he’s going for.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Netflix.


Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Produced by Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong
Release Date: September 25, 2020
Running Time: 130 minutes

‘Come and See’ Review: Carrying The Burden of Survivor’s Guilt

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To call Elem Klimov’s final film Come and See one of the finest of war films would not be enough in order to describe what the experience of watching it would feel like. There has never been a more raw, more horrifying depiction of pure evil onscreen, one that ever made you feel like you were a part of everything that unfolded as the war kept going. Make no mistake, this is not an easy film to watch, but you’ll never come out from watching Come and See feeling like you’re the same person again – if anything it stays with you the moment it finishes, and provides one of the most visceral of any cinematic experiences that you can imagine.

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‘1917’ Review: A Faceless, if Harrowing War Experience

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This WWI film directed by Sam Mendes is a visceral theatrical experience, one that feels ready to place you on the battlefield, whether you are ready or not. It’s also one that I was feeling skeptical about because it has also been way too long since I was last wowed by a mainstream war film from recent memory, but the idea that Sam Mendes were to make one to look as if it were in one continuous long take became the most intriguing selling point for me. And for every bit as it is the film’s main selling point, 1917 doesn’t seem to have all that much to offer beyond that. Which isn’t to say that the film is bad, but where it peaks in the technical department it seems to be lacking elsewhere.

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‘The Irishman’ Review: Martin Scorsese Revisits and Reinvents Familiar Themes in Epic Crime Saga to Wondrous Results

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As he nears his eighties, it’s impressive to think about how Martin Scorsese manages to find new ways to push the possibilities of what the medium of film can accomplish even as he continues treading familiar subject matter. And after having remained in development hell for so many years, he releases The Irishman for Netflix, which resulted in possibly his most expensive film and longest film to date, but considering the sort of original content that Netflix has been known to fund over the years it’s almost incredible to think that they would let Scorsese make a film of this sort with a budget that almost matches up with a modern superhero film. As familiar as the subject matter would be to many Scorsese fans, those entering expecting another GoodFellas or Casino will find themselves in for a whole other ride entirely; this may be one of his best films in recent memory too.

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Cold War Review: A Broken Romance Whose Happiness Evokes Sadness

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The moment one goes on stage, there’s one face that stands out inside a large crowd that sticks with you. It’s the presence of that one face that either gives you an intense feeling of stage fright, because you know you want to make sure everything goes absolutely right from start to finish – and it can be anyone. It can go from being someone who secretly envies your talent, or someone you’re in love with – and the very feeling that Paweł Pawlikowski shows that pressure to be only under your skin. Yet I saw something else in Cold War that also made it stand out – because every second of it was too beautiful to that degree I could not ever bear to relive such memories again, although I stick around watching it because I know that this is going to forever be a part of the sort of person that I am. But sometimes it doesn’t always have to be yourself that experiences what these memories can do to you, as you sit there and let everything come back inside your mind. When I watched Cold War, I kept something else in my head, something that I know would only be set to sting me more and more. I remembered what it felt like to be separated by those boundaries, no matter the extent we are kept apart. But that mutual tie came so clear in another dedication to the fact we loved what we did to make ourselves happy.

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Colette Review: A Biopic About Sexual Freedom With One of Keira Knightley’s Best Performances

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Keira Knightley is a star whose presence I have often enjoyed onscreen more often than the films she’s in themselves. Perhaps it’s also come forth from my general lack of interest in period pieces, but Colette never stayed within the realms of what I would have expected it to be. On paper, it sounds like it could easily have been any other film that Keira Knightley would have attached her name to, especially given the setting and the subject matter having been based on a real person, but what Wash Westmoreland presents with Colette also carries a more seductive quality that I must also admit I didn’t expect to see right away. It’s seductive in the sense that Keira Knightley’s onscreen presence has always been, especially as she takes on new appearances under the elaborate costume design. Although if I were also to talk about the sort of turn that a film like Colette would have been from the films of hers that I’ve already familiarized myself with for so long, then it would also be worth noting that sort of person whose story she brings to life here.

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Zhang Yimou’s Shadow Takes Too Long Before Getting Exciting: TIFF Review

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Part of me really wants to love Shadow because of what I already know a director like Yimou is so good at, but at the same time I’ve found it so hard to get invested with his films lately because of how well I already feel I know by heart the templates that he’s sticking so closely with at this point. But despite all of this, I found so much to admire about Zhang Yimou’s film because it also happens to resemble everything that I’ve come to long about his more action-packed films from the early points of his career. Along with films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the way in which Zhang Yimou frames an action sequence in his own takes on the wuxia film with films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers have always been so compelling – but talking about what he crafts in the case of Shadow would already be another scenario. When talking the more recent of Zhang Yimou’s fare, this may arguably be his most violent in recent memory but there was a point to which I wondered how much of this even really was worth the effort.

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Adam McKay’s Vice, or How My Hatred For Dick Cheney Only Grows Stronger: A Review

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When I hear the name “Dick Cheney,” the very reaction elicited from myself is one of intense hatred. But for as long as I’ve been alive, there’s no other United States president that I despise to that same level that I do George W. Bush. So before watching Vice, I was unsure about what exactly to expect out of how Adam McKay brought the story of his vice to the big screen. If one person were to make a film about one of the most despised recent American political figures, the last person I would ever expect to take on this story is Adam McKay had he not made The Big Short prior. Although McKay started off with comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, there’s a very level of anger present in these recent films that seems to come from a very perspective that almost feels so underestimated because of McKay’s own background. But maybe that background ever feels so vital to describing what political debate has already boiled itself down to at this point, and McKay clearly isn’t happy about where any of it has gone by now.

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12 Years a Slave, a Harrowing Confrontation of America’s Past Mistakes and One of Humanity’s Greatest Tragedies: Review

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Steve McQueen’s third feature film sees the British filmmaker returning back to the roots of adapting history to the screen, but much like Hunger, he only ever remains so uneasy yet his perspective can only make clearer what it really felt like to suffer at the hands of slavery in America. It’s one thing to note the very willingness that Steve McQueen has when it comes to bringing these stories to the big screen for as difficult as they may end up being, but as uncompromising his approach may be, his choice not to hold back already feels eye-opening. From watching 12 Years a Slave you’re made to see the very hell that Solomon Northup had been made to live through in a world that only tried to establish him as being of a lesser kind; but McQueen leaves you wondering the very extent to which we truly have moved further as a species. It’s one among many things that solidifies why Steve McQueen is among the best working filmmakers, but even at showing the most difficult atrocities that one can be made to endure there’s an incredible sense of empathy that his approach evokes that makes 12 Years a Slave a powerful experience.

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