I can say with some confidence now that I’ve witnessed Kristen Stewart’s enchanting performance as Princess Diana in Spencer – the race for next years 2022 Best Actress Oscar has officially begun. And Stewart is out with a comfortable lead.
Spencer is directed by Pablo Larraín best known for his similarly-themed biopic about a notable female historical figure; Jackie. The script has been penned by Steven Knight (Locke) and Kristen Stewart stars as the titular Diana Spencer. While you might be thinking this is a biopic about Diana, Larraín has labelled the film as a “a fable from a true tragedy”.
Oddly enough Spencer joins the likes of Die Hard, Iron Man 3 and Carol as an unconventional Christmas film. Set over 3 days during the festive season, the film opens on a shot of a dew-kissed Sandringham estate where the Windsor family will be spending their Christmas together.
We watch as a cavalcade of staff roll into the grounds to set up the mansion for the royal familiy’s pending arrival. Everything runs like clockwork; the chefs, servants and security march in unison to their stations with military precision. Large carriers containing the most opulent foods are popped away in the fridges of the grandest of kitchens. The grandeur of this scene can not be overstated. It immediately tells us that even though the Royals may celebrate Christmas like everybody else – they aren’t like anything us.
We then cut to the Princess of Wales exclaiming “where the fuck am I?” Lost somewhere in the countryside, she pulls into a dingy little roadside café – the kind no royal would be caught dead in. She shyly walks up to the counter to a gawping worker and asks for directions.
This opening sequence is quite frankly genius. Not only is it intoxicatingly shot and paced but the everyday-relatability of Diana stopping to ask for directions cleverly juxtaposes the lavish, pre-planned, chauffeured lifestyle of the royals. This time we’re thinking she is one of us.
Jonny Greenwood seems to be everywhere at this years Venice Film Festival. Not only did he provide the score for Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog but he’s also produced the score for Spencer too which aches with melancholy. There’s a notable tinge of tragedy in the strings. However when Diana finally arrives at the estate, Greenwood infuses his score with some jazzy trumpets. Jazz by its nature is surprising, spontaneous and disruptive – so it makes total sense that when Diana walks through the hoity-toity entrance to the manor, that she herself is disrupting the status quo.
The keeper of the house Major Gregory (Timothy Spall) insists that Diana follows the strict regiment that has been laid out for her over the Christmas period. Everything has been set. From the food she eats, to the clothes she wears to the traditions she must upkeep; such as the yearly weigh-in before and after the 3 festive days. Everyone is expected to have gained 3 pounds as proof of just how much festive frivolity they’ve had. However a buleimc Diana is petrified of the notion of being weighed. But as Major Gregory insists not even the Queen is exempt from tradition.
This strict adherence to systemic tradition is what is causing Diana to feel like she suffocating. The family she has married into has removed so many of her individual freedoms that it’s squelched all semblance of who she once was. Her life is now so intensely planned out for her right down to the second. It’s why she insists on driving herself to the Sandringham estate because her car is one of the few remaining places where she feels like she has control.
I seriously believe that her turn as Diana Spencer will be the role that finally swings public opinion on Kristen Stewart as an actress. And rightfully so.
Think back to a decade ago during the Twilight years. Stewart had long been on the receiving end of public criticism about her acting style. The infamous stuttering and mouth-breathing became the source of many-a-meme. But much like her co-star and former Paramore Robert Pattinson, they’ve both slowly shed the stigma of wooden Twilight acting away.
Stewart has been taking on meatier roles in smaller projects like Camp X-Ray, Personal Shopper and Seberg – and earning herself a lot of critical clout in the process. She even became the first American actress to win the Cesar award for her supporting performance in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria.
And now she’s taken on the role of arguably the most famous woman who ever lived – mere months after Emma Corrin captured the worlds heart in the 4th season of The Crown. And yet Stewart still manages to come into the Oscars race with the full force of a wrecking ball.
Not only does she look like Diana from the signature blonde bob to the ballet-dancer frame. But she’s also nailed the mannerisms that were quintessential Diana. Like her posture as she posed for photographs; Stewart raises one shoulder, tilts her head down and flutters her eyelashes while letting the coyest smile curl around her lips. It’s perfection. And of course she gest the accent spot on too. Stewart really did her homework.
Not only can I foresee her winning the Best Actress Volpi actress in Venice but she’s sure to ride the wave of momentum all the way to the Oscars. It’s a role too irresistible for the Academy to overlook. It ticks many of the criteria they gravitate towards; tragic historical figure, the actress has 95% of the screen time, it touches on challenging topics such as Bulimia and the scrutiny/mistreatment of female celebrities in the media. And ultimately it feels like the right role, for the right actress at the right point in her career to celebrate. I can see the Academy choosing Stewart as their Best Actress champion.
But it’s not just Kristen Stewart who will be acknowledged come awards season. Spencer is likely to be a major player with potential supporting nominations for Spall and Sally Hawkins. A Best Picture nomination seems highly likely along with a screenplay nomination for Steven Knight. Jonny Greenwood’s painfully beautiful score is likely to be favoured and we mustn’t forget about Jacqueline Durran’s exquisite costumes. I’m convinced the montage sequence of Diana dancing was only added just so Durran could show off the dozens of fabulous outfits she had picked out for the film.
Larraín’s direction is thoughtfully evocative. It’s often been said that Diana’s life was like a fairytale; an ordinary girl who became a princess. Larraín utilises a lot of trucking shots to symbolically suggest a storybook unfolding before our eyes.
The tracking shots which stalk Diana down the bellowing corridors help us to empathise with Diana’s headspace – the walls are closing in and all eyes are constantly watching her. The mansion maybe huge but there’s no space for her to hide.
The only creative step that won’t be to everyones taste is the repeated motif of comparing Diana to King Henry the Eighths second wife Anne Boleyn. Camilla Parker Bowles is even compared to Jane Seymour in one scene. While the execution is a little on-the-nose, Larraín’s astute grasp of his surreal fairytale makes this creative choice feel justified. There were some derisive sniggers in the audience audience of my screening – particularly when Diana at one point morphs into Anne but it didn’t feel overplayed or out of place.
Spencer is magnificent achievement for everyone involved. A career highlight for Kristen Stewart that’s sure to be on everyone’s lips once they’ve seen it. it’s lusciously shot and has an intoxicating atmosphere thanks to Greenwood’s tremendous score.
Spencer will be released in Cinemas internationally from November 5th but is also screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival.
If you want to follow more of Luke’s coverage from the Venice Film Festival be sure to check out his Youtube channel.
Aftersun | Movie Review | Cannes Film Festival
Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there are one or two titles that catch fire and become the talk-of-the-croisette. Ruben Östlund’s raucous Palme d’Or-winning Triangle of Sadness made the most audible amount of noise this year (justifiably so). However, another film was on the tip of everybody’s lips and became a must-see sensation; Aftersun. The feature debut of Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells screened as part of the director’s fortnight section and is the little-indie-movie-that-could of not just this year’s Cannes Film Festival but of all of 2022. This special film has captured the hearts of all those who have seen it and will continue to do so for years to come. It’s why we keep coming back to the cinema: to discover exciting new voices and be completely absorbed in a story.
What’s remarkable about Aftersun (besides this being the debut of Wells) is how unremarkable and yet utterly captivating the story is. Set in the nineties, the plot follows a young single dad named Calum (Paul Mescal) who takes his spright 11-year-old daughter Sophie (breakout newcomer Frankie Corio) on a summer holiday to Turkey – and that’s pretty much it. For a film that lacks very little dramatic tension or conflict, Wells keeps you firmly and emotionally engaged throughout the breezy 95-minute runtime.
Sometimes, the little films about everything and nothing ring true the hardest and leave audiences the most moved. Stories that aren’t particularly flashy but manage to capture the beauty within the mundane little moments of life. Aftersun is one of those movies that will leave you weeping in your seat and wanting to call your parents after you’re done. Drawing from her own experiences with her father, Wells explores the dynamics of this paternal relationship without ever resorting to clichéd domestic squabbling that you’d typically expect from a premise like this. Thanks to her honest script and the marvelous performances from her two actors, it is joyful simply watching this father and daughter duo hanging out on vacation, discussing life, romance, drugs, hopes, and dreams with such candor.
Wells crafts a dignified two-person character study that is heartwarming but tinged with sadness. Her screenplay perfectly balances the two perspectives of the relationship allowing you to empathize with both characters. Sophie represents the bliss of youth as well the excitement of pending independence. At the same time, Calum represents the melancholy of youth-gone-by. Given the relatively small age gap between the two of them, Calum is often mistaken for Sophie’s older brother. While Sophie is clearly the light of his life, the drawback to becoming a father so young is that Calum sacrificed most of his own adolescence in the process. In a very touching scene that sees father and daughter sharing one single bedspread, Calum laments to his daughter that life didn’t exactly turn out the way he wanted, but we can see he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an absolute lightning-in-a-bottle pairing of actors, quality writing, and beautiful direction. The chemistry they share and the magic they create you can’t fake or teach.
Mescal’s ability to show internal hardship and regret with such subtlety is the reason why he is fast becoming one of the most sought-after talents of his generation. He’s had a tremendous few years with meaty projects such as Normal People, The Lost Daughter and his other hard-hitting drama to premiere at Cannes this year; God’s Creatures. Meanwhile, Frankie Corio is a revelation as Sophie. She effortlessly commands the screen with an emotional maturity well beyond her years. You would not know this was her first time in front of the camera from watching her performance. Memorize her name now, as this girl is undoubtedly destined for stardom.
Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins served as an executive producer on Aftersun, and one can practically feel his steady guiding hand is resting on Wells’ shoulder. Given Jenkins’ propensity for creating films that sizzle with poetic chemistry, you can see he’s passed down sage advice to Wells on how to formulate an atmosphere that’s effulgent enough to bottle. It takes most filmmakers years of trial-and-error to master what Wells has accomplished on a first try. She confidently allows the story to flow naturally with a lazy holiday pace without ever becoming stagnant. Her ability to capture a moment in time is outstanding and extraordinarily impactful. Anybody that’s ever been on a package holiday to Europe will feel an immediate kinship with her story, and those who haven’t will still feel something anyway. Her emphasis on the little details; the arcade games, evening karaoke, doubles games of pool, screaming children at water parks, and eager holiday representatives cringingly trying to get tourists to do the Macarena – it’s all so familiar and makes Aftersun such an emotionally resonant watch. She also takes some risks with her narrative structure which certainly pays off, particularly with the last shot, which is slightly abstract but will bring a tear to your eye, leaving the audience on an achingly bittersweet note. She also uses brief flash-forwards that help recontextualizes the camcorder holiday footage that bookends the entire film.
Aftersun is a little miracle of a film that marks the ceremonious arrival of both filmmaker Charlotte Wells and her young star Frankie Corio. It also features a never-better performance from Paul Mescal, which at the very least should generate some awards-season discussion for the young 26-year-old Irish actor. Thanks to Wells’ wonderfully human characters, astute direction, and stellar performances, Aftersun truly is about the little moments that seem insignificant at the time but become the precious stuff we treasure as adults. It’s the type of film we’re lucky to have in our lives as it offers the viewer a window into the soul of a sensitive and wonderful new storyteller.
Aftersun premiered as part of the directors fortnight at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Aftersun is being distributed by MUBI for theatrical distribution in UK-Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Latin America, Austria, Turkey and India. And A24 has acquired the North American rights. Stay up to date with Luke’s coverage from the Cannes Film Festival via Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok @lukehearfield
Tribeca: Signe Baumane & Dagmara Domincyzk Discuss Their Collaboration on My Love Affair with Marriage￼
Animation is a beautiful medium to explore various subject matters. Just look at what Signe Baumane has done with her feature films. Baumane is living proof that animation is not merely for kids, and it’s possible to fully tackle adult topics with the medium. My Love Affair with Marriage covers the life of Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) as she discovers what love truly is. If you’re anything like me, the film will make you rethink your own love life.
Coastal House Media: Could share the story of how the two of you guys started this collaborative relationship?
Signe Baumane: I wrote the script in 2015 and I knew that the actor who would be the main character would be like Atlas, holding the whole film on her shoulders because she had to cover all the ages, from age seven till age 29, and she had to be [the] voiceover [narrator] and she had to do dialogues and she had to be very versatile and very great actor and we were like. “Where are we going to find such an actor?”
And so, my partner Sturgis Warner, [who] was also [the] co-producer of the film and casting director, he set out to look through a lot of actors and I looked on the internet. He [Warner] also knows a lot of New York theater actors and he happened to see Dagmara [Dominczyk] in several shows years before and he wrote notes. He was like, “Oh, there’s like a model, Dagmara, and she’s amazing.” He looked high up and there she was. She had a video of herself, reading her book. The book, [is] a lullaby for Polish girls, and she had the reading in a Montclair Public Library. And when we started watching this video, I was just instantly captivated by her storytelling ability. Of course, the story she told us was very interesting, but [so were] her skills to tell the story. It transported me and that’s how we got our main actor.
Now the trouble was to [get in] contact [with] her, you know, because she’s not easy to be contacted but we managed. And so, we sent her the script, and then she said yes, and we were just beside ourselves, very happy. And I don’t know how it’s from Dagmara’s point of view, but when we started working on the making [of] the character, bringing [her] to life, that was a process. I think it was three days of rehearsal and talking and discussing the character, but what also helped was that Dagmara is Polish. [There were] a lot of things she knew without me having to tell her. So, Dagmara, what is your take on that?
Dagmara Dominczyk: First of all, [it’s] quite easy to find me easy and thank God for my broad, Polish, you know, Slavic shoulders, I guess. Yeah. Your up suit, your broad shoulders. They’ve been brought into my life.
SB: We should have sent you pigeon mail [laughs].
DD: I remember just getting the script from my agents and reading it and just being blown away. I knew it. I knew the characters, you know? There’s something about growing up behind the Iron Curtain, it does something to a person, a woman. And even though I had left early, I spent many years, every summer, with my grandmother, I had a very strong connection to my Polish heritage for good and bad.
I spoke the language in which Signa was telling this story and I thought it was like you said, very bold and very gritty and very “un-American.” And that appealed to me on many levels, culturally as a woman, as a writer, as a supporter of female artists, like every box was quickly checked and the idea of going to work and not having to wear makeup and just fucking showing up in my glasses, that was really nice, too.
SB: Yeah, I really liked working with Dagmara because it was like the discovery of the character, you know? You [Dogmara] knew her [Zelma], like, I could feel it. And then of course, when you had to do the other parts, like the voiceover parts that are kind of tricky, you know? And then also, one other thing that I forgot to mention, our actor had to have a sense of comedy and I thought you were spectacular. Like, [you had] the lightness, but you also got the drama and romance. You did amazingly well, and I heard your voice for seven years, you know? Because you don’t even remember what you did, but every day I would hear your voice. And every, every day I would be like, “I can’t believe how good you are.”
DD: After I said yes, I watched all the links to Signa’s work like Rocks in My Pocket and her series of short films about female sexuality and all that, and just was blown away. Even the art itself, [and] the animation brought back memories. I don’t know, it felt so familiar. And I did get that dark, morbid humor that we Eastern Europeans are famous for.
CHM: How does the recording process work on an animated feature? Are you (Signe), there with the actors?
DD: We were together with Sturgis [Warner]. I didn’t work with the other actors, but Signa and Sturgis were in the studio with me every day. I couldn’t do it without her.
SB: Something happened in 2017 before the pandemic so we could be friends all together at the same studio and be happy together and share lunches.
CHM: You’ve [likely] done animated projects before, but are there any challenges that come with voice acting for you, Dagmara?
DD: Well, I had recorded some audiobooks, a few novels; I think I did like four of them, so I like that. I enjoy it when your voice is your only instrument, you know? That’s challenging but exciting. And it was a very interesting process, to act almost in a void because you’re not reacting to the other actor in the studio.
So you really have to trust your director and the people with you there. I had more of an [easy time] when it came to the dialogues Zelma has than the narration. When I watched Rocks in My Pocket, Signa had narrated that, and she had this very lyrical, lilting, lovely accent; almost like she was telling a fairy tale. I maybe subconsciously decided to go with that to bring a little of her into my work. When I watched the movie, I said, “Oh yeah,” because I thought this is going to work this juxtaposition of a rolling, soft voice and all this fucking fucked up shit that happens to her. I think it works, but it wasn’t without its challenges. It was really exciting. And like, you felt alive because the challenge was to create a world when I didn’t have the animation [in front of me] and I didn’t have the other actors. All I had was the creator and she was there to answer every question and we would go back and forth about ideas.
SB: But Andrew also, Dagmara was the first kind of event of creating the character because when we edited her voice and then quoted other actors, higher voice acting was [the] basis for my animation. Like I animate the character and the voice informed me [of] the gesture, the expression, it was intuitive. Dagmara, it’s funny because it was my text, it was your voice, and then it became me animating like I was acting your voice, you know? It was a very collaborative, co-creation of the character [Zelma].
CHM: Could you guys name one strength that each of you brought to this project?
DD: I think we trusted each other, right, Signa?
DD: We didn’t know each other, but there was a trust.
SB: Trust is probably [a] very good word to describe it because we felt that we served the project; we served the higher purpose outside [of] me or you, you were there to build the character [and] to make her happen.
And there [were] like, no egos; nobody was trying to dominate anything. Like, any idea was welcome so we created it together. So I think the trust [is] probably the strength. But I’m also very grateful for Dagmara’s sense of humor, and likeness because the film is at times dark and I think that Dagmara is a special, super talent of lightness and humor, [and she] really served the project well.
My Love Affair with Marriage premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11. For more information, click here.
Elvis – Movie Review | Cannes Film Festival 2022
Baz Luhrmann, the visionary director of Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet has made his long-awaited return to the Cannes Film Festival with his highly anticipated musical biopic “Elvis.” The Australian filmmaker has had a rich history at Cannes. His breakout film “Strictly Ballroom” started as part of the Un Certain Regard selection back in 1992. He then went on to open the festival in a “spectacular spectacular” fashion with his much-beloved jukebox musical Moulin Rouge! in 2001. He then had the honour of being the first person to ever open the festival twice with his adaptation of The Great Gatsby in 2013 – which received mixed reviews from critics. Since then, he’s mostly stuck to television projects such as The Get Down. It’s bonkers to think that it’s been almost a decade since the exuberant filmmaker has given us his last extravagant feature film.
Last night Luhrmann’s Elvis had its world premiere in the Grand Théâtre Lumière, where it received a 12-minute standing ovation – the longest of any film in the festival’s lineup this year. One can argue this wasn’t simply effusive adulation for the film but more of an acknowledgment of the Australian filmmaker’s grand return to the Croisette, a homecoming celebration of sorts. Because, to be honest, twelve minutes is exceedingly generous for a film like “Elvis.”
The film stars rising talent Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) as the king of rock n’ roll, Elvis Presley, and Tom Hanks as Elvis’ long-time manager Colonel Tom Parker, who serves as the narrator of the film. Parker takes us on a greatest hits tour of Elvis’ life through the decades. From his humble beginnings in Memphis, to worldwide fame as a singer and movie star, to his Las Vegas residency, and eventually his tragic death – which many blamed Parker for. The film dives deep into the relationship between Presley and Parker, which went from symbiotic to toxic over the years.
From the opening shot of the bedazzled Warner Brothers logo, you immediately know you’re watching a Baz Luhrmann picture. Never one to play things safe or subtly, the entire opening sequence is quintessential Luhrmann. With frantic camerawork, crash zooms, and operatic music to boot, it’s the hyperactive style we expect from him. However, it’s not just Baz’s typical sensationalism for the sake of it; it reflects Presley’s childhood love for comic books and superheroes. Baz’s use of split screens unfolds Elvis’ childhood, though as if we’re observing it through the window panes of a comic strip. However, there’s a noticeable shift in energy shortly after a scene where we bear witness to the pandemonium that arises from the birth of Elvis’ legendary hip-wiggle. After this point, Luhrmann adopts a less chaotic approach to the remainder of the story – leaving the film feeling slightly uneven overall.
It also doesn’t help that Luhrmann and co-writers Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner try to jam every aspect of Elvis’ life into one film, even with its 159-minute runtime. The screenplay is concerned with showing all the incarnations of Elvis; the singer, the movie star, the loving son, the husband, the father, and the Las Vegas legend – and not all of them get an equal slice of the pie. The end result is a film that feels both rushed and bloated in its execution. The relationship between Elvis and his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) especially is sadly underbaked. The screenplay only gives them maybe two scenes to establish an entire relationship. The rest of the time, we only really see Priscilla as a passive spectator in the audience of her husband’s concerts. So when Priscilla calls it quits on their relationship, despite terrific performances from Butler and DeJonge, there’s little emotional fallout to be felt.
“Elvis” is the next in the recent trend of musical biopics about iconic musicians that tend to generate a lot of awards buzz. In recent years we’ve had Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, Judy, and Respect. All have had varying degrees of success over award season. Many pundits already see Austin Butler as a viable contender for an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Such suspicions are very much justified. Butler sparkles like a rhinestoned jumpsuit in this role as he nails Elvis’ signature drawl, cadence, physicality, and gyrating stage presence. It’s the type of transformational role of a notable figure from the entertainment industry that Academy voters and mainstream audiences simply can’t resist.
Oddly, Butler’s performance is most reminiscent of recent Oscar winner Jessica Chastain’s work in The Eyes of Tammy Faye mainly because it’s all too easy to do a caricature impersonation of someone like Tammy Faye Baker or Elvis Presley. Like Chastain, Butler manages to go beyond Elvis, “the entertainer,” and gets to the root of Elvis, “the man.” He mines moments of pathos and sympathy from the unfocused screenplay, embodying all the qualities of the entertainer but without ever crossing the line into cartoonish exaggeration. However, the same can’t be said about his co-star, Tom Hanks’ Parker, whose hammy performance as the Colonel will most likely divide audiences.
Baz’s wife, collaborator, and two-time Oscar winner, Catherine Martin, brings her lavish production and costume design work to the forefront of “Elvis.” With Elvis’ proclivity for loud, rambunctious outfits, Martin gets to showcase an array of recognizably fabulous outfits, as well as bring Graceland and the International Hotel in Las Vegas to life with dazzling awe. The soundtrack boasts a fun selection of new songs from Doja Cat, Eminem, Eurovision winners Måneskin, and numerous bangers from Elvis’ catalog, all performed by Butler himself. There’s also a surprisingly delightful mashup of “A Little Less Conversation” and Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” which is sure to remind viewers of Luhrmann’s ability to blend styles and eras of timeless music as he’s done in his other films.
Despite all of the bombastic production value leaping off the screen, “Elvis” is a mixed bag of a film from one of the most polarizing filmmakers we have working today, which is no surprise given the reception to his previous efforts. His latest is trying too hard to tell every facet of Elvis’ life, thus causing it to buckle under the weight of itself. What Luhrmann and Presley have in common is they both have a spectacular flair for showmanship, so in many ways, Luhrmann seems like the perfect filmmaker to bring the king’s story to the big screen. And while it is still a sugar-rush ride of a movie, it is quite self-indulgent at times. It would’ve felt a lot more orderly and impactful if he reigned in the focus just a little bit more. However, this is an example of a mediocre film boosted to a pretty good one merely off the sheer skill of Butler’s incredible, star-making performance. In the words of Presley himself, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
Elvis premiered out of competition at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Stay up to date with Luke’s coverage from the Cannes Film Festival via Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok @lukehearfield
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