A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby

Amber and Richard met when she was a journalist covering his coronation. Inevitably she became his, and Aldovia’s, Queen. That just about catches you up on the first two movies. In this, the third, the royal couple is expecting their first child, a future king or queen, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s Christmas time again. These two crazy kids do everything around the holidays (presumably Aldovia’s national holiday must be on or around March 25th.) But before they can start their parental leave, they have to welcome visiting monarchs from the neighbouring also-made-up-country of Penglia to observe the 600th anniversary of the end of a war between the two countries.

What could possibly go wrong? Will Queen Amber’s belly get in the way of putting on her slippers? Naturally. Will some paperwork get misplaced? Unfortunately – resulting in the most scorching whodunit since Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. Everyone in the castle is a suspect and due to inclement weather, no one’s been in or out. And the stakes are high: a curse on the still-unborn baby prince. So, a cross between Knives Out and Maleficient, perhaps. But Christmas-themed and dripping with hot greasy cheese. Plus it cures sexism!

It’s hard to tell if the script is bad or the lines are just misdelivered by bad actors. Actually, it’s pretty easy to tell: it’s both. Red hot BOTH. The star of the show, Rose McIver, relies solely on bump cradling to get her through all manner of scenes: royal duties, guided meditation, a little light espionage. But Netflix knows what it’s doing (this is the third in the franchise in as many years, after all): allow grown women to indulge their princess fantasies, peek behind the castle doors in a way that Kate and Meghan will never allow (or be allowed), and pretend for 90 minutes that the kind of man who could make you a princess and give you a castle will also plan romantic dates and rub your feet and respect your career. Netflix is (almost) literally printing money with this formula and you can take it or leave it because they don’t need you. This movie will stream more times in its first 12 hours than Scorsese’s The Irishman has in 3 weeks.

The Duchess

While the children are outside playing, Georgiana (Keira Knightley) and Charles (Dominic Cooper) among them, Georgiana’s mother is inside, brokering her daughter’s marriage to a man she’s met but twice. She’s not 18 yet but the match will make her a duchess, and by her mother’s standards, that’s more than enough.

Georgiana is so young that she’s actually surprised when the marriage to the much older Duke (Ralph Fiennes) turns out not to be filled with warmth and happiness. He only cares that she produces a male child, and her failure to do so is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, he saddles her with children he’s conceived elsewhere, the least well-kept secret in all of England. And though she’s turned a blind eye to every indiscretion, when he beds her only friend and moves her into their home, it all gets to be a bit too much. With no other option, Georgiana must tolerate it, as she tolerates all else. None of her hats and dresses can make her happy so she does the only thing she can: she takes a lover. Remember childhood friend Charles? Georgiana certainly does.

I saw this streaming on Netflix and was surprised I hadn’t seen it. Now that I have, I’m less surprised. I didn’t need this in my life. It’s not bad, it’s just very generic. It feels like a movie I’ve seen before and it even, in some ways, reminded me of another Keira Knightley film, Colette. It’s a period drama with a very slight feminist bent. She discovers sex! Turns out, it’s not all about your husband raping you until pregnant. Sometimes it even feels good. There. I spoiled it for you. Sorry/not sorry. It’s a literal bodice ripper (and such a shame, the hair and costumes are the only real thing this movie has going for it) – if it was a book it would be a Harlequin, with Fabio on the cover, and I’d feel much more embarrassed about having read it. Instead I’m mostly just mildly annoyed. Georgiana is apparently a distant relative of Princess Diana so the film was marketed using the Diana angle as heavily as it could (“There were three people in her marriage”) for a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with her. Shameless, of course, but when your film’s this bland, what else can you do? Ralph Fiennes’ stockings aren’t exactly selling tickets.

 

The Fanatic

This is the kind of movie I wish didn’t even exist because what if you accidentally watch it? You’re a nice person. You don’t deserve that. Promise me right now that you’ll never watch this movie. Promise! It’s because I care.

Moose (John Travolta) is a rabid fan. He’s on the spectrum and not exactly sensitively portrayed; Travolta goes all in, with every tic he can fathom and a bad haircut to boot (in fact, a wig). But it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

One of his absolute favourites is horror star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). He spends money he doesn’t have on movie memorabilia and waits in line to have it signed. But when Dunbar cuts the autograph session short, Moose just about loses it. He feels there are certain entitlements between a star and his fan and when Dunbar isn’t exactly gracious about it, Moose spirals. I mean, you know you’re in a bad space when a paparazzo calls you a stalker. Or you should. But Moose just keeps escalating things, showing up at Dunbar’s house, scaling the fence onto his property even, and he doesn’t take it well when Dunbar is increasingly hostile (he’s got a young son at home). Of course, Dunbar just thinks Moose is another crazed fan. He doesn’t understand how much danger he’s in. And maybe neither does Moose.

Directed by Fred Durst (yeah, I know), the movie starts mediocre and only declines. There are a number of poor directing decisions, my least favourite probably the fantasy scenes in which Moose imagine the roles reversed, himself a generous and magnanimous movie star.

No, I’m lying. It does get worse than that. I withheld some stuff to avoid spoilers, but you’re not going to watch this thing anyway, right? You promised. Not even out of morbid curiosity should you watch. I mean, it’s not even laughably bad, or watchably bad. But I suspect the movie (or, its director) thinks it’s clever, which is intolerable and awkward and just makes the whole thing feel so much worse. We always knew, intellectually, that something had to be the worst thing on Netflix, but never before has the answer been so obvious, or definitive.

 

I Lost My Body (J'ai perdu mon corps)

I forget sometimes that I speak French. Well, maybe not forget so much as don’t think about it. Much like I don’t specifically think about speaking English. I just do. If I hear or see French, my brain understands without me having to engage anything in particular. It’s just effortless. Growing up we spoke both at home, both at the same time, every sentence seasoned with both languages, choosing whichever words or expressions suited us most. So when I started watching this French film on Netflix, I listened without thinking, and since I was also doing work on my laptop, I didn’t even realize there were subtitles, and may not have consciously realized it was French until I glanced up and my brain shuddered: the subtitle had a mother calling her son “sweet pea” when in fact what she called him was a “soft caramel.” Soft caramel isn’t really a thing in English. I mean, it’s a thing you can eat, but it’s not a term of endearment. So the subtitles substituted for something that made more sense but wasn’t a direct translation. This happens all the time of course, sometimes with hilarious results, but when you’re understanding both at the same time, it can be a little jarring. I’m positive Netflix must have an option for turning off the captions but I’m also positive that about 4 minutes of bumbling through buttons netted no results.

So here I am, watching an animated movie with two tracks, basically: spoken French and written English, and the two are in basic agreement. It’s about a little boy named Naoufel who dreams of becoming a concert pianist and an astronaut. And about the same young man, grown up, who is a pizza delivery guy. Which I feel is supposed to be some sort of humbling come down, but what has an astronaut ever done for me? And yet the pizza guy routine brings joy, hot and cheesy, to my front door. My life would be worse without him. Anyway, Naoufel isn’t exactly the most exemplary of deliverymen, and one night when he’s struggling even more than usual, he just gives up, gives in, sits down in an apartment lobby talking to a woman on the intercom while he eats her undeliverable pizza. He falls in love and devises an elaborate scheme for stalking/wooing her.

Meanwhile, across town, a disembodied hand escapes from a laboratory fridge. The hand goes on an epic Parisian journey through the city’s gutters, fending off pigeons and rats. The hand is sad, I think.

Yeah, it’s weird. That might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written here. It’s damn weird to have a stalker love story be intercut by a dirty roaming hand. And all the dirty, greedy flies who follow it. And yet it is strangely beautiful, poetic, almost hypnotizing. The animation is soft, subtle. The story is intimate and sad, truly something unique and unforgettable.

Tell Me Who I Am

Do yourself a favour and go into this movie blind. Normally I’m a complete whore for your time and attention, and I do implore you to come back once you’ve finished, but truly, you don’t need to read this review. The movie is good, worthy of your time. Go watch it.

***

When Alex is 18 he wakes up in a hospital bed and the only person he recognizes, in fact the only thing in the world he knows to be true, is that the 18 year old man sitting beside him is his twin brother Marcus. A woman claiming to be his mother brings him to a house she assures him has been his childhood home; he shakes hands with a cold man he’s told is his father. Alex has no memory of his life up until this point, knows nothing; he has to be told what a bicycle is and how to ride it – and then he doesn’t know where he’s going. The world seems scary and blank but Alex has one thing on which he can rely: brother Marcus. So after he starts to get the basics down, Alex asks Marcus about more personal questions like: who am I, really?

Is there any one person in your life who knows the entire answer to that question? The truth is, every single person who knows you knows a slightly different version of you. They see you through their own filters. You present yourself to them with your own hopes and biases about how they’ll perceive you. You may augment yourself in certain areas, you might tell little fibs about your past, or construct whole chapters of it out of thin air. Who, then, has the authority and insider knowledge to fully tell you who you are.

***Spoilers ahead

The truth is, Alex and Marcus had a terrible childhood. Terrible is too easy a word, actually. So when Alex’s memory was erased, Marcus kept it from him. He painted a lovely picture and Alex never questioned it. But Marcus found that lying to his best friend and twin would take its toll. Still, telling him the truth felt way worse than to carry on lying.

Gosh. What a choice. What a life. Not only did Marcus take on the the guilt of lying, but also the aloneness. Because that childhood, the knowledge of that childhood, was still his. And now he was alone with it. The lies were a gift to his brother Alex, but what did they do to Marcus? Now he has to pretend to not be fucked up. He has to look the other way when Alex acts lovingly toward his parents. He’s swallowing his own pain and anguish to protect his brother. But if you keep up these lies for years and years and years – how long before you start believing them? And how long before that buried dirt comes back to infect you? And when the truth surfaces, as it always does, will Alex see the lie as a gift or as a betrayal? Oof.

This documentary is presented very simply yet with great emotional impact.

The Report

The Torture Report is based on real events as I’m sure you’ve not failed to notice. In the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA went rogue. Or went roguer. It was panicky because as the country’s central intelligence agency, it sort of had a responsibility to avert disasters such as these. And technically speaking, it knew about the specific 9/11 threat and had failed to do anything to stop it. It was embarrassed and tried to cover its embarrassment and perhaps culpability the only way it knew how: with an aggressive show of force. So it started acting both above and below the law, doing whatever it deemed necessary to get things done, but not running anything by anyone else, and not actually getting things done either.

Cut to: Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) puts together a task force led by staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) to investigate the CIA’s so-called Detention and Interrogation Program. And the thing is: the work is easy. Their guilt is dripping off each and every report he reads, and poor Jones reads literally millions of pages of documents. Jones of course finds evidence of torture, but also that the CIA then attempted to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and keep things secret from even the highest offices in the country. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the truth was that their torture techniques didn’t even work. Although they were so brutal that more than once the prisoner died while being tortured, not once (worth repeating: NOT ONCE) did their EITs result in information they didn’t already have. So either the torture was ineffective or the prisoners truly didn’t have any dirt to spill, and the CIA couldn’t tell the difference anyhow. In fact, afterward even the CIA admitted that at least a quarter of its prisoners should never have been detained in the first place – and keep in mind that people died in their custody. And that’s just what they admit to.

By ‘things’ I mean torture. They basically invented a whole new kind of torture to get information out of terror suspects and they called it ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EITs) in order to not have to call it torture. But that’s what it was. Meanwhile, the president of the United States is strutting around telling the world that the USA does not torture prisoners, confidently saying as much because the CIA was saying that to his face while crossing their fingers behind their backs.

Adam Driver is playing a desk-sitting paper-shuffler in this, and it can be hard to make that very cinematic but the truth of his performance lays in how passionate he is about the work. After spending more than 5 years in a secure, windowless office, working nights and weekends to put this thing together, and being constantly confronted by the shady, unlawful, and shameful actions of his country, it wears on Jones. He can’t help but be emotionally invested.

The film, directed by Scott Burns, earns its tension in that despite this being his life’s work, and obviously vital knowledge, there are tonnes of people who want to bury the report. Even Senator Feinstein wavers. The CIA is not just torturing people abroad, they’e keeping secrets from their president (and openly lying wherever necessary), and spying on their own people, including on the Congress of the United States of America.

It’s kind of amazing that the film ends up feeling gripping and vital. There’s a momentum to it that really brings the subject alive and Driver injects the thing with urgency and humanity.

 

Knives Out

We went to see our little nephew play hockey on professional ice today. It was a fundraising effort for his team – we bought tickets to see the pro home team play, and then the kids took to the ice afterward. They got to walk onto the ice through fog, with swirling lights, have their names announced, and stood for the anthem. Then played a game with music breaks and the announcer throwing out goal credits, and our nephew rose to the occasion with a hat trick. It was a perfect way to spend our Saturday noon, except getting in and out of the parking garage was perfect hell. The arena was in the same area as a big open-air Christmas market and the whole thing meant we spent 30 minutes driving to the venue and 50 minutes waiting to park, and the exit process was looking to be just as harrowing only with more honking, so we got into our car, considered our options, and got back out to spend our time more wisely: paying for a movie that at least one of us had already seen.

[It’s awards season, so besides Frozen 2 and Last Christmas, which we’ve already seen, the theatres are packed with things one or both of us have seen previously at film festivals.]

Of our options, we went with Knives Out, even though we grabbed two of the last 5 seats in the theatre, which means we were watching from the front row and Daniel Craig’s head was horrible distorted.

The script, however, was just as delightful. So even though I’ve already given you a full review of the film here, I wanted to urge you, if you’re at all interested in this film, to check it out at the cinema. Our packed theatre was having so much fun, laughing out loud consistently, it’s such a great communal experience to laugh alongside your fellow hooman.