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Spencer – Review | Venice Film Festival 2021

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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.

Kristen Stewart [Spencer – Komplizen 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.

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Film Festivals

892 | Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review

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Despite having to go entirely virtual for a second year running, the annual Sundance Film Festival is back and it’s back with a bang. If 892 is anything to go by, it promises to be an excellent festival yet again with plenty of great films to get stuck into.

892 tells the true story of former US Marine veteran Brian Easley (played remarkably by John Boyega) who in his hour of desperation is led to walk into a Wells Fargo bank with a bomb. After not receiving his disability check for $892 he’s now living in a cheap motel in Atlanta on the brink of homelessness and separated from his wife and daughter, meaning that the soft-spoken and kind Brian is driven to desperation and decides to rob a bank and hold hostages with a bomb. After the police and the media descend on the bank it becomes clear that Brian isn’t doing this for the money, he just wants to tell his story and to get what’s rightfully his, whatever it costs him.

Part of the reason why Abi Damaris Corbin’s debut feature is so impactful is because of Boyega’s pitch-perfect performance and the way in which he just completely sinks into the role. He plays the role with such sensitivity and sincerity, drawing us into Easley’s character so well. He doesn’t want to rob the bank, nor does he want to hurt anyone, but this is the only way he can get what’s his and to tell the whole world how he’s been denied the disability check that he needs to survive. As well as Boyega, the late Michael K. Williams shines in his last screen role playing the negotiator talking to Easley on the phone. The conversations between the two hit hard as they’re supposed to and only engross us in the film even further.

892 is incredibly tense right from the get-go and it manages to hold this tension all the way through until the very end. And the tension is the driving force behind it all, but it’s remarkably balanced with the intimate emotions coming from Boyega’s Easley. We really get a true feel for why he has to do this and what it means for him. To have been let down by his country, the country he served, and it only gets more shocking as the film draws towards its conclusion. 892 is an edge of your seat thriller that will have your heart racing the entire time and is continuously heightened by the truth behind it all. This being a true story makes it all the more staggering.

The film takes place almost entirely in the bank, but it never lets up and it never drags. Boyega carries the entire film along with it hooking you right away and never letting go. It’s nail-biting stuff that claws right at your heart. 892 is a film that reminds us of the responsibilities that we have to the people in the world, whether they’re soldiers or someone we’ve only just met before, we’re all people.

892 premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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Dune – Movie Review | Venice Film Festival Review

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Before we get started. Word of Advice: See it in IMAX! That’s all.

This was the big one. Literally. Out of all the films at Venice, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was indisputably the big ticket film on this years festival. Not only in terms of (IMAX) size, scale, scope and star-power but also in terms of how much hangs in the balance.



Many have tried before to adapt Frank Herberts’s renowned sci-fi novel before with varying degrees of success. But if anyone seemed like the right fit to take on Herbert’s space epic and do it justice, it was Denis Villeneuve. The man’s CV speaks for itself, with recent sci-fi gems like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 under his belt. But with Villeneuve’s decision to split the acclaimed novel into 2 parts and Warner Bros controversial decision to release the film both in cinemas and on HBO Max at the same time. Many were worried (myself included) that we might see another repeat of what happened to Blade Runner 2049 – raved by critics but poor box office performance. Will Villeneuve’s blend of mainstream grandeur and artistic integrity render Dune part 2 doomed to exist?

Well, fear not. After an uproarious response from critics and cinemagoers at Venice and TIFF. I would bet my first born child that Villeneuve will get to see his vision come to fruition with Part 2. People would riot if he didn’t because the film is simply too damn good. Warner Brothers have offically stated that as as long as Dune’s numbers are strong on HBO Max then part 2 will be green-lit regardless of box office numbers.

I can only imagine what a relief that must feel to the die-hard Dune fans but for someone like myself who had zero knowledge of the books and previous adaptations going into Dune, I too am beyond ecstatic to know I’ll get to see how part 2 will play out.

The added benefit of never having read the book or having seen David Lynch’s 1984 version or the early 2000’s TV series, is I had no preexisting knowledge or expectations for Villeneuve’s film. I had nothing to compare it too so I could go in as a blank slate and judge objectively for myself.

I will admit after reading the synopsis, I was worried that a story so vast as this would be a challenge for me to keep up. Thankfully that was not the case. Not once did I feel lost watching Dune. The exposition is handled extremely well. Villeneuve has taken newcomers by the hand and explained the universe in a way that is very easy to digest. So those worrying it might not be accessible to all audiences – if I can keep up with it, then anyone can.

The year is 10191. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac) of Calden is tasked by the emporer with the stewardship of the deadly desert planet of Arrakis (also known as Dune). Arrakis is home to the most valuable resource in the universe known as spice which can extend a human life span and is the key to space travel. So naturally, whoever holds Arrakis holds the power.

Leto intends to mine the planet for spice but he also takes his Concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) down to Arrakis in hopes of teaching his son how to become the leader he needs to be. By forging an alliance with the native inhabitants of Arrakis known as Fremen his people will know peace and prosperity when Paul becomes Duke.



However, when house Atreides learns of a spy within their rankings Lady Jessica and Paul must venture into the Arrakis desert to find the Fremen for help. Which is no small task as the desert lands are populated by 400m-long burrowing, man-eating Sandworms.

Villeneuve certainly sets the stage for bigger things to come in part 2 but despite being only one half of the story, part 1 completely works as a standalone film.

The praise knows no bound for this film. Every department harmonises succinctly with the next.

The casting alone – while admittedly it’s a tad boastful in it’s star-studded lineup but truly, everybody is exceptional. To go through the cast and effusively sing their praises one-by-one would be a waste of a word-count, so I’ll say everyone fits their role like a glove but I’ll call special mention to a few.

Timothée Chalamet has been a star for years but Dune just solidifies the fact he will be gracing our screens as a leading man for decades to come. As Paul he finds just the right balance of boyish naivety and inner strength. Thanks to his Concubine mother’s lineage, Paul has gifts such as prophetic dreams and mind manipulation but he’s not quite mastered them yet. But where the film leaves us with Paul is tantalisingly teasing.

Rebecca Ferguson does most of the emotional heavy-lifting as Lady Jessica. A mother role that’s pleasantly full of surprises. Ferguson shines here. If the Academy weren’t so genre-biased towards sci-fi I would say she is worthy of best supporting actress nomination.

Many were concerned due to the early trailer footage of Jason Momoa, that he would be coasting on his Aquaman charisma but his Duncan is sincerely heartfelt.

And Stellan Skarsgård is frighteningly good as Baron Harkonnen. He might be caked in makeup and buried in a fat-suit but his stunning performance beams through.

On the technical side, every single department hits the bullseye. There’s a visible fusion of Eastern inspiration between Patrice Vermette’s production design, Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West’s costumes and Greig Fraser’s cinematography. They all should be receiving Oscar nominations next year.

But not only do Villeneuve’s dazzling visuals cascade off the screen. They’re complimented perfectly by Hans Zimmer’s immaculate score. For the past decade Zimmer has been synonymous with the Bwom-heavy soundtracks of the Tenties thanks to his game-changing score for Inception. Now he will be known as the man who pulled off the impossible; the man who made bloody bagpipes sound epic as fuck. For real. His majestic score is nothing short of astonishing.

One really has to go searching for faults with Dune and the only thing that might be concerning to some viewers is Dune is not a particularly funny film. The two humorous lines from the trailers are essentially all you get in terms of comedic relief. But I personally found the lack of snarky Marvel-esque humour refreshing. The truth is, the film simply doesn’t need it – not when the characters are this interesting and the world building is so immersive. Villeneuve’s preference to shoot as much on location rather than green screen sound-stages helps to make Dune one of the most transportive films of late memory. You can practically feel the Arrakis sand beneath your feet.




Dune is the reason we go to the cinema. It’s movies like this which is why I do what I do – to get lost and absorbed in story. Many considered the source material unadaptable for the big screen but in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, he’s truly made the impossible possible. Much like what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, Villeneuve has made a film for the fanboys (and the critics) but he’s also made it completely accessible to newcomers. Dune is cinema at its most ambitious, boldest and most beautiful.

Dune is having a staggered worldwide release over late September and October. It will be available on HBO Max regionally as the same time as cinemas. But please, I cannot stress this enough; go see Dune in the cinema. IMAX if possible. THIS IS CINEMA! No home theatre system can do this film justice.

For more of Luke’s coverage from the Venice Film Festival be sure to check out his YouTube Channel.

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Zola | Sundance Film Festival London 2021 Review

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“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense”. These were the words at the beginning of an 148 tweet long thread on Twitter from @_zolarmoon on October 27th 2015. The incredibly long thread went viral shortly after being posted and not long later, Rolling Stone published an article interviewing some of the people involved. And now in 2021, after premiering at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Zola, a film based on the twitter thread and the Rolling Stone article is being released.

Aziah “Zola” King was definitely right that it is a long story but it’s certainly full of suspense. The film sees Zola (Taylour Paige) working as a waitress when she meets Stefani (played by Riley Keough), a stripper who invites Zola on a trip to Florida with her boyfriend and mysterious roommate to make a lot of money dancing at high-end clubs in Tampa. What follows is a crazy, chaotic ride as Zola gets into all sorts of situations involving guns, prostitution and pimps as things start going wrong as she realises that she’s got in way over her head.

Janicza Bravo does a great job of bringing Zola’s Twitter thread to the big screen whilst still retaining some sense of it being told as if it were on Twitter and the original voice of the thread. Throughout the film there are constant sounds of notifications coming in, messages being sent, Tweets being tweeted- in fact every single time the film includes a direct quote or moment from the original thread we hear a tweet sound effect and it really helps give Zola its own unique style and to bring this crazy story to the big screen. Add in Zola’s narration throughout and the film has a really unique voice, much like the real Zola in the original Twitter thread.

After seeing the film, I immediately went and read the original 148 tweet long Twitter thread and unlike how I normally prefer to read a book before seeing the film adaptation I think with Zola it works much better to go in blind and then read the tweets because you’ll come out of seeing it and be so keen to read it in its original form and be taken aback by the wild story all over again.

Zola blends a few different genres with it being so darkly funny at times and incredibly suspenseful at others. The creepy and eerie atmosphere that the film creates keeps rising and getting stronger as the film goes on, resulting in a climax that is full of tension and has you on the edge of your seat.

There are a few moments where the mix of comedy and seriousness doesn’t quite land and you’re not quite sure if you should be laughing or not. But overall Zola is a really entertaining film. However, the highlight of the film is definitely the performances. Paige and Keough are both fantastic and help to carry the entire film. Watching them act and bounce off each other truly is incredible. Colman Domingo is also fantastic as ‘X’, Stefani’s pimp as he changes between American and Nigerian accents whenever trying to intimidate someone.

Zola is a wild journey, anchored by fantastic performances. The film manages to bring the chaos and unpredictability of the Twitter thread to the big screen in a really distinctive way, opening up a door of endless possibilities of what can be made into a film. If a Twitter thread can be turned into a film, anything can.

★★★★☆

Zola is released in UK cinemas on August 6th.

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