Hyde Park on Hudson starts out on a solid premise- an exploration of former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s affair with his distant cousin Daisy Suckley, during the royal visit to America by King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth in 1939. However, what sounds like a good idea on paper is not necessarily successful on the silver screen.
Daisy Suckley is Roosevelt’s sixth cousin, and is invited to spend time with the stressed president in the lead-up to a visit to his family’s estate, Hyde Park on Hudson, in 1939 by the King and Queen of England. The film flits between the affair of Daisy and the president, and the president’s relationship with the royals. It explores the tensions and cultural differences between the British and Americans, and the camaraderie on show between the King and president. However, the links and studies of all these issues are tenuous and make the film seem flighty and shallow.
Daisy is a wholly flat character, and it is simply amazing that a film has been able to be created with her as the protagonist. The connection between her and Roosevelt seems non-existent and she is not enough part of the royal visit to paint a thorough picture of either that or her affair. The film would have been better served to focus on Roosevelt and King George VI (Bertie’s) budding friendship, developed over their shared experiences of disabilities- Roosevelt’s crippled legs and Bertie’s stutter. Their sweet solidarity is barely explored in any depth, and it would have been a far greater film had they focused on this, rather than the dull affair.
The film often resorts to stereotypes of its British and American characters, only heightening the emptiness one feels when watching. The Queen of England is pretentious, and thoroughly appalled when she discovers the royals are to be served hot dogs at a picnic. Rather than accepting it as a gesture of Americana, she instead takes offence and believes the Americans are trying to humiliate her and her husband. Bertie is actually thoroughly likeable, and while he seems like a shy and uptight bore he has many redeeming qualities, and his ability to relax and enjoy the companionship of Franklin makes him a far more likeable character- whilst heightening the audience’s disdain for his snobby wife’s reactions.
Daisy, while well played by Laura Linney, is boring. She says little, and adds almost nothing to the film. The purpose of the film is perhaps to inject shock into the audience at Roosevelt’s misdemeanours in marriage, but Eleanor Roosevelt’s reactions are so wholly non-existent that even his affairs don’t even seem like a concern.
Bill Murray’s portrayal of Roosevelt is rather empty and shallow and does neither Murray himself, nor the president any justice. He comes across as a bullish American cad, who whilst obviously very smart and capable, doesn’t possess as much of a presence as an American president should.
Eleanor comes across as a typically clichéd American woman- stronger and more independent than her British counterpart, she asks the Queen if she can call her Elizabeth. Her presence served to only further irritate, and claims of her homosexuality were clearly intended merely to add shock value.
And finally, the hot-dogs. Throughout the entire film the hot-dogs are consistently, insistently referred to. The royals take great offence at the possibility of being served hot-dogs, and it is established as a crux of the film. Hot-dogs cannot serve as the centre of a film, it is not workable and places it into the sphere of satire.
While watchable, and for the most part enjoyable, this film is not as strong a historical film as The King’s Speech or Lincoln. It is best placed in the realms of costume dramas and romantic comedies- light weight and fun, and better off saved for DVD.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Directed by: Roger Michell
Written by: Richard Nelson
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams.
Released by: Universal Pictures
Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play Reboot: From Magic to Materialism
The message seems to be that in a world without magic, our imaginations are corrupted by mere consumerism
I can’t imagine anybody thinking that the recent reboot of Child’s Play is a great film. It has all the markings of a movie that a studio tosses a little money at, knowing that horror is a pretty dependable return-on-investment, hoping that it can last about a month in theaters before moving into the streaming market, where it will get rented fairly consistently by Gen Xers hungry for 80s nostalgia. Nonetheless, it actually isn’t all that bad either. The comedy mostly works, the scares are pretty effective, and production quality makes it all believable enough for a fun night out.
In addition, the way this film re-imagines the original gives the viewer something to think about, perhaps in ways its predecessor never could have. The social commentary here is actually pretty interesting. In fact, as I write this sentence, I might even make the case that the film is pretty close to great after all. There is an important political message buried in this revision of an icon of Ronald Reagan’s decade, and it’s one we should probably pay attention to.
Director Tom Holland’s (the one who isn’t Spider-Man) original Child’s Play (1988) probably remains the superior horror film. For those unaware of the premise, the movie introduced the world to Chucky, the possessed doll that became an instant horror icon, spawning multiple sequels even before this reboot.
In Holland’s original film, Chucky is born when serial killer Charles Lee Ray (the amazing Brad Dourif) is mortally wounded in a gunfight with the police and invokes a Voodoo ritual to transfer his soul to the nearest object, a “Good Guy” doll in a toy store. When Chucky finds his way into the home of young Andy (Alex Vincent), he begins his quest for revenge against the partner who abandoned him and the cop who killed him (Chris Sarandon), murdering everyone in his way.
Lars Klevberg’s 2019 remake completely changes the premise, removing magic from the mix altogether. Here, Chucky (Mark Hamill) is an A.I. powered doll that connects to other pieces of technology produced by the Kaslan Corporation. Think of an embodied form of Amazon’s Alexa. An exploited factory worker in Vietnam, in an act of workplace vengeance just before his suicide, removes all the technological safety protocols from a unit, creating a powerful, murderous A.I.
In both films, murder and mayhem ensue from each premise, but the film’s share a few important themes, and that continuity helps shed some light on what this new film is trying to do.
First off, they both feature strong single mothers. In the original, Catherine Hicks (apparently preparing for her future iconic mother role on Seventh Heaven?) was the hard-working, widowed mother of Andy, Karen Barclay. In the new version, Aubrey Plaza adds some scruff and dysfunction to the character, but retains her dignity, commitment, and strength. The original film undermined cultural assumption about the power (and necessity) of men. Chris Sarandon’s cop is either an obstacle or someone to be saved throughout most of the film. Klevburg seizes on this theme and uses it to his political advantage in the remake.
In addition, the new film retains the original’s emphasis on economic precarity. Both films depict cities under extreme economic hardship. For instance, neither version of Karen can actually afford the coveted Chucky doll for their child and must resort to alternative means to do so. Originally, Karen buys the cursed doll from a homeless man (from a LARGE homeless community). In the new version, she has to blackmail a coworker into not sending the returned doll back for destruction. In both cases, the women are poor and they live in desperately poor conditions: in the remake, the city could be from a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Clearly there is an economic critique in both of these films.
Any good remake should make significant updates, however, and Klevburg’s version introduces several significant changes (in addition to the A.I. aspect of the character).
First of all, Chucky’s motivation is utterly different. Brad Dourif’s Chucky was motivated by criminal insanity and vengeance. Mark Hamill’s version of the villain shares much in common with 2001’s HAL. His motivation is more human, as he seeks Andy’s love and then, later, self-preservation.
The remake also quite appropriately introduces the subject of cell phones and social media as an important theme. This version of Andy is older than the original, and like most pre-teens, he spends a significant part of his life immersed in screen technology. The kids in this film are rather brutal to one another and the only real community that forms between them is mediated by technology: phones, games, and, yes, Chucky himself. Klevburg’s film is absolutely trying to say something about alienation and loneliness and their relationship to technology.
Another change is in the characterization of Chucky’s corporate creator. In the original, Chucky is a “Good Guy” doll, a product connected to a popular cartoon. While certainly the film makes the whole enterprise out to be silly (a kind of parody of the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the 80’s), the corporation isn’t really responsible for the mayhem. That was all on the demented Charles Lee Ray.
The blame is radically relocated in this version. The Kaslan Corporation immediately takes the role as villain here. It’s public face, the Jeff Bezos-like Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson), is both pitchman and apologist for the company, which wields a terrifying amount of control into the lives of this world’s people. After viewing this film, it’s hard not to ask “what if Alexa went bad and started…oops.” This is a world in which the corporation controls the very desires of its citizens.
Thus, it makes perfect sense that, where the original film begins in a store, this one reaches its climax in one. Whereas the first film was a rather simple supernatural revenge film, this one is a large-scale indictment of consumerism. And in the movie’s horrific climax, it is consumers at large, not particular individuals in Chucky’s way, that are terrorized (if seeing gallons of blood sprayed into the face of a screaming child bothers you, this movie may not be for you).
The power that the Kaslan Corporation holds over consumers is in full view in the crowd’s almost orgasmic anticipation for the new version of the A.I doll. This misplaced desire is punished in Chucky’s elaborate, blood-soaked retribution.
The consumerism of this film of course functions in the context of a massive, global economic system. The exploitation of consumer desires and imagination is inseparable from the exploitation of Kaslan’s employees. The horror begins, after all, when a worker in a Vietnamese factory is finally pushed too far by the profit-exploiting demands of Henry Kaslan’s company.
Chucky has been one of horror’s great icons for three decades and running. To re-imagine the franchise in the way that Lars Klevburg has here is a bold and welcome move. The world has changed a lot since the 1980s. The original Child’s Play poked brutal fun at a certain consumer madness in Reagan’s America, but this new version is an unblinking gaze at the consequences of Reagan’s free-market optimism. By giving the world over to market-justice and corporate profits, Reagan’s 1980’s replaced awe-inspired wonder with cold materialism.
Klevberg’s remake of Child’s Play recognizes where that all leads. It also replaces magic with materialism and the message seems to be that in a world without magic, our imaginations are corrupted by mere consumerism.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers
Save the world, save the girl?
Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.
You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.
The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.
However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes