Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Shorts Takes: November I - Films

Reviews:  Spencer / Eternals / Summer of 85

Spencer (c) Neon

Film: Spencer 
In Cinemas 

“Spencer” begins with a caravan of British cars heading to the Sandringham estate to prepare for the Royal Family’s arrival for Christmas. The cars don’t notice there’s a dead pheasant in the road. Any of the cars could run it over at any minute – and that’s probably the most subtle image director Pablo Larraín gives us on why Princess Diana finally decided to divorce Prince Charles soon after this holiday. That Diana is played by indie darling Kristen Stewart (who would have thought that she and her “Twilight” co-star Robert Pattinson would be the most risk-taking actors of their generation) is not even the boldest choice in this fascinating but ultimately tepid film, not unlike Larraín’s previous “Jackie”. Essentially a horror movie disguised as a comedy of manners (Did you know the Queen requires everyone to weigh themselves when they arrive and leave to see who gained the most Christmas weight?), “Spencer” is replete with specters, body horror hallucinations and spooky noises portentously warning, to paraphrase Whoopi Goldberg from another ghostly movie, “Diana, you in danger, girl.” Once I was on the film’s wavelength, the gimmick got tiresome and I wished for more insight. Stewart, whose main acting choice is breathy whispering, is fine, but if she wins the Oscar for this, I will pretend it was for her more deserving turn in a better otherworldly movie, “Personal Shopper.” The best scenes are the naturalistic and loving ones with Diana and her sons. I yearned for more moments like that. 

Eternals (c) Walt Disney Studios / Marvel Studios

Film: Eternals 
In Cinemas 

What if I told you the Greek Gods of yore were real except they weren’t Gods but immortal aliens sent to Earth to defend us from evil monsters? That’s what Marvel wants us to believe for their next-iteration band of superheroes (after Avengers and Guardians) called Eternals. Somewhere between way back when and now, the Eternals have been stuck on Earth after killing all the monsters, waiting, like ET, to go home, but with no phone. Sersi (Gemma Chan) is living in London working at a museum (like Diana Prince) with her human boyfriend (funny that he’s played by Jon Snow himself, Kit Harington, considering Sersi’s name). But then she is attacked by one of the Deviants long-thought dead and now she has to get the band back together again. This is Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao’s first big Hollywood movie (with a catering budget probably bigger than all of her previous movies combined) and she was mostly brought in to bring out the humanity in these otherworldly characters and she succeeds splendidly with Chan, Barry Keoghan (as yet another moody kid who happens to be an Eternal), Brian Tyree Henry (who has a pleasant secret besides being an Eternal) and Kumil Nanjiani (who has been busy in India with his manservant and acting side-gig in addition to being an Eternal). But at 2 1/2 hours, the movie still feels rushed trying to squeeze in all the past lore as well as the present danger. If the flashbacks were in a separate, prequel movie (they really slowed down the action) and we only dealt with the present day, the movie would have felt a lot tighter. But as the mid-credit bonus scene seems to indicate, the sequel will be moving in one unexpected direction that says exposition is all done and we’re ready for some fun “Guardians of the Galaxy” shenanigans. 

Summer of 85 (c) Music Box Films

Film: Summer of 85 
On Showtime and streaming 

One of the 2021 movies I was keen to catch up with before the onslaught of holiday and awards movies begins was François Ozon’s latest film. I have always admired his early films and the laidback way he treats his gay characters. But Ozon has always had a fascination with lurid topics, making each movie essentially a National Enquirer headline (“A Baby Born With Wings!” “Killer Teens!”) even when the movie would work without it. Did “8 Femmes” and its cast of luminous French actresses really need a murder plot? “Summer of 85” should have just stuck to the gay love story of two young men who discovered love at a seaside town, but Ozon always flashes forward to one of the boys being arrested and talking about corpses (“Gay Tragedy in Normandy!”). Once the story’s told, the last chapters turn out to be equally compelling, but I wish Ozon would have just told the story chronologically and not put a damper on the romance, always reminding us to not get too attached to these two. But get attached we do, especially to newcomer Félix Lefebvre as Alexis, who has shades of vulnerability like a young River Phoenix. This is certainly a return to form for Ozon by having gay characters front and center, which he hasn’t done since 2005’s “Time to Leave.” And seeing young love so free and breezy on screen is always appreciated.

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