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Columns Eleanor Ringel Cater

A trio of movie reviews: “Spencer,” “King Richard,” “Mass”

Will Smith wins 2022 Oscar for "Best Actor" for the movie "King Richard"

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

With the holidays upon us and the studios releasing their awards-bait biggies, I figured a round-up of sorts might be more useful than a single review.  The trio below is available for viewing in select theaters or on VOD.

 “Spencer”: Forget Britney. Free Diana.

Hers was the face that launched 1,000 magazine covers and she died too young, chased by paparazzi down a tunnel in Paris, like a fox pursued by a pack of hounds.

Movie poster for “Spencer”

However, you feel about her – poignant People’s Princess or preening press manipulator – you’ll likely be disappointed by this confused bio-film set during a particularly dismal Christmas in 1991.

Charles is cold, Camilla lurks in the background, and Diana’s most convincing relationship is with her toilet bowl (bulimia, remember?).

Kristen Stewart, an actor I genuinely admire, struggles mightily with the role, and ends up somewhere in between an interesting impersonation and a 5th-grader’s notion of a madwoman.

If you’re determined to spend the holiday with the Royals, a far better choice would be “The Lion in Winter,” starring Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine.

“King Richard”: Royalty, American-style.

Not some lionhearted crusader nor a hunchbacked schemer, but Richard Williams, the father, coach and, let’s face it, creator of two of the greatest tennis players ever born, i.e., Venus and Serena.

Scene from “King Richard”

Will Smith reclaims his position as one of our most charismatic actors with a showy and shrewdly conceived performance in the title role. Granted, it’s a bit irritating to see Venus and Serena reduced to supporting roles (seen as little girls and young teens, they are mostly hard-working, ever-smiling cyphers).

But the movie is what its title says it is – a portrait of an ambitious man who bucked stereotypes and prejudices from every side (the ghetto dudes are as threatening in their way as the country-club blondes) so that his daughters could become the best in the world without losing themselves to pressure, prejudice, and, of course, immense fame.

The film could’ve been structured better and it’s apparently a bit of a whitewash (sorry, bad choice of words), but its aim is true. And so is its heart.

“Mass”: A mess.

Two sets of parents confront each other in one of those sadly sterile church rooms to talk out, as the press notes say, “an unspeakable tragedy.”

Columbine or Matthew Shepard? Matthew Shepard or Columbine?

Movie poster for “Mass”

The film is relentlessly coy about the nature of said tragedy until we swing into the final half hour wherein each of the four gets a major Tony-bait monologue. Except, to my considerable surprise, this seemingly stage-bound actors’ showcase didn’t originate as a play.

However, it was written and directed by an actor (Fran Kranz) and it shows. Mightily. It’s not that the dialogue is uninteresting or the actors inept, but that’s all we get – loads of words and emotion.

Kudos to Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Jason Isaacs, but this is not the stuff that movie careers – or memorable movies – are made of.

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Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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