Spencer

Contrary to what Disney would want little girls to believe, it’s not always cool to be a princess.

Set within Christmas and Boxing Day in 1991, Spencer, directed by Pablo Larraín (Jackie), about Princess Diana of Wales and her decision to end her marriage with Prince Charles, is a biting antithesis of a Christmas movie.

It has all the familiar elements: there is a princess, a family get-together at a lavish countryside home, beautiful dresses, angry aristocracy, a proclamation of love and ghosts — just not in the way one expects.

Spencer is also a historical what-if. What you see on screen may definitely have happened, but not in the order of events, or in the context of reality. So much of Larraín’s film is tangibly real, and then it’s not.

Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart, all but readying her winning speech for this year’s Oscars), is deliberately lost in the Norfolk countryside. Driving her sports car, she has escaped her security detail during a public appearance.

However, snared in unbreakable, invisible chains, she doesn’t stray that far. Stopping by a small diner for directions, Diana stuns the customers — she is, after all, royalty and a highly publicised one at that. She then drives around some more, stopping by what appears to be hectares of smooth plains, with a barely visible scarecrow. The scarecrow feels familiar, she thinks — a relic of the past she longs for.

Director Pablo Larrain’s Spencer psychologically channels Diana’s agony and self-loathing, while Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City offers a badly directed rehash of the first and second videogames

Back in Sandringham House, one of Queen Elizabeth’s royal residences, a small battalion escorts huge metal cases filled with the event’s main artillery: food.

Lobsters, vegetables, fruits resting on chunks of ice are sorted by the chef’s “brigade” — working with military precision (the routine is charted down to the minute), the kitchen staff works as if they’re waging a war against taste buds.

Major Alister Gregory (Timothy Spall), Master of the Household to the Sovereign (ie. the general of the staff), weighs the royal visitors before they check into their rooms. As is tradition, everyone should weigh more when they leave. It’s an old ritual that must be upheld.

Yet, once-sacred traditions appear as routine chores and hollow carcasses of their former self; they have little pomp, grandeur or significance in Steven Knight’s screenplay. They are just something to be done — a procedure to be ticked off the list.

Everything in and around the Sandringham House is large — whether they be rooms or the countryside — yet the atmosphere is unendurably suffocating, because Spencer psychologically channels Diana’s agony and self-loathing.

Prince Charles (Jack Farthing; one of the few actors with speaking parts) is in the midst of an affair with Camilla-Parker Bowles, who is seen fleetingly and out of focus, like most of the attending royals. The only ones Diana — and the lens of the camera — sees are the help (Sally Hawkins plays the royal dresser, and one of her friends), or her children, or anyone who she chooses to have a conversation with.

One would gather Camilla to be the least of Diana’s worries. By and far, the Princess of Wales is the spoilsport of these holidays, who’d rather spend time with her children Harry and William and, when not with them, would dawdle in anguish, reluctantly try on dresses, puke after dinner and hallucinate of strangulation from the necklace Charles brought her and Camilla (both have the same design; the nerve of that man!).

On the brink of a nervous breakdown, she sees the phantasm of Anne Boleyn — the Queen of England and the wife of King Henry VIII — who somehow shares her soul with Diana.

Larraín’s film is like a pressure cooker that’s almost ready to blow its lid off, yet never does. Still, despite its one-track, single-aspect storytelling, and the two hours’ running time, it’s quite fascinating.

Stewart, with her at-the-end-of-her-tether, itchy, angst-beset performance, is a shoe-in for Best Actress nominations, as are the costume designs by Jacqueline Durran (two-time Oscar winner for Little Women in 2020, and Anna Karenina in 2013) and the all-negative cinematography by Claire Mathon (the film was shot on 16mm and 35mm Kodak stock). Larraín, with his heavy-handed direction, may get a nod as well.

The placement of Steven Knight’s screenplay, however, would be a matter of serious contention: would it be nominated in the original or the adapted category at the Oscars? As in: is its originality and deviation within the bounds of reality enough to secure it a nod as an original work, or a creative adaptation of reality?

Kookier things have been pondered upon, both at the Oscars and in Spencer — but unlike the award event of the past year, the film cannot be missed.

Released by Neon and STX Entertainment, Spencer is rated R for serious, reality-bending, melodrama

Resident Evil: Welcome to RacCoon City

“In Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, Racoon City, once the booming home of pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation, is now a dying Midwestern town.

“The company’s exodus has left the city a wasteland…with great evil brewing below the surface. When that evil is unleashed, a group of survivors must work together to uncover the truth behind Umbrella and contain the danger, while trying to make it through the night.”

So, yeah. Basically we have a premise akin to that of any uneventful event movie. This official synopsis — unengagingly written by the studio — doesn’t really wow the audience’s expectation…but then again, neither did most parts of the last Resident Evil movie series starring Milla Jovovich, and mostly written and directed by husband Paul W.S. Anderson (Monster Hunter, Event Horizon).

Yet, despite their God-awful set-ups and gung-ho mindsets, the movies deviated just enough from the popular videogame series to actually stand on their own kinked personalities.

Welcome to Raccoon City, often a badly directed rehash of the first and second games, is, well, bad. Honestly, as a critic, I’m drawing a rare blank, because I don’t know many other ways to define bad than simply, just bad.

There is one measly okay-ish scene of a horrid human experiment named Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa, the contortionist who doubled for actress Annabelle Wallis in Malignant), who kills another horrid mutated monster — but that’s as far as engagement goes in this movie.

In retrospect, writer-director Johannes Roberts’s reboot does something even Anderson’s movie series failed to accomplish: it effectively kills this new rebooted franchise.

That is, I hope it does. I seriously do.

Starring Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is rated ‘R’. The movie is playing in cinema screens across Pakistan. Play the game instead

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 12th, 2021

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