Vox Lux

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy
Directed by: Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”)
Written by: Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”)

Pop star Celeste Montgomery (Oscar winner Natalie Portman plays her as an adult) is doing everything possible to control her own destiny. She’s been doing so ever since tragedy struck when she was a teenager and despite the fact that her life may already be primed for a “predetermined destination.”

The setup to the satirical drama “Vox Lux” by actor-turned-director Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”) is strange and hypnotic. As a devout teen, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a school shooting and later uses the experience to launch a successful career as a musician.

If the idea sounds a bit preposterous, it’s probably because Corbet means to say something contentious about the culture of celebrity in the 21st century. These days, all it takes to become famous is to create a YouTube channel or star in a sex tape or play a villain on a reality TV show, so why wouldn’t the same thing happen to a young girl who is shot in the head and decides to write a song to help ease her pain? Let’s be honest. Is it any more unbelievable than cast members from “The Real Housewives” or “Teen Moms” trending on Twitter?

In “Vox Lux,” Corbet introduces audiences to Celeste as a young girl — a girl “not all that special or conspicuously talented” — coming to terms with her newfound fame alongside her supportive sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) and unnamed manager (two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law). Her character arc during these formidable years is captivating — evolving from an innocent performer into a mainstream sellout.

Divided into two acts, we meet Portman in “Act 2: Regenesis” as a seasoned and cynical 31-year-old superstar raising her daughter Albertine (also played by Cassidy) in an industry she loves and despises for different reasons. When another tragic event takes place halfway across the globe that is connected to one of Celeste’s music videos, she is forced to reevaluate the circumstances that brought her to a place where fantasy and catastrophe go hand in hand.

Ambitious to a fault, “Vox Lux” feels otherworldly. Corbet still has a long way to go as a filmmaker, but it’s inspiring to see someone take risks so early in their career.

Ep. 111 – Annihilation, Game Night

February 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Annihilation” and “Game Night.” The guys are also baffled by James Gunn’s revelation that Baby Groot isn’t Groot reincarnated, but actually Groot’s son.

Click here to download the episode!

Jackie

December 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
Directed by: Pablo Larraín (“No”)
Written by: Noah Oppenheim (“The Maze Runner”)

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) is going for gold again as she portrays First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, the drama is shot beautifully by cinematographer Stephanes Fontaine, and the haunting score by composer Mica Levi drives home the grief felt through the entire picture. The film, however, begins and ends with Portman’s powerful performance, as she masks her pain with poise and attempts to uphold the legacy of her husband even during the darkest of days.

Knight of Cups

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
Directed by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life,” “The Thin Red Line”)
Written by: Terrence Malick

In 2011, a peculiar and prominently placed lobby placard accompanied the theatrical run of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” at the Austin, Texas, arthouse where my wife and I saw the film. Customarily, of course, studios will blow up favorable reviews of prestige pictures, poster-sized reproductions of admiring New York Times or Variety think-pieces intended to drive traffic, foster appreciation, and brand the property as “critically acclaimed” and “substantial” and “Academy Award-worthy.” (All three of which, of course, the thrice-nominated Tree [Picture/Director/Cinematography] rather objectively is.)

This lobby card was different, though. No monolithic rave or erudite recommendation, it bore instead a disclaimer. A warning, really. Very nearly, indeed, a tight-jawed semi-apology. It communicated something remarkably similar to — and may in fact have been a close paraphrasing or regionalized adaptation of — a like-minded and somewhat internet-notorious caveat that was displayed at Stamford, Connecticut’s Avon theatre and read, in part: “We would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that “The Tree of Life” is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it … please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy…”

In essence: “We realize that, technically, this is a summer movie featuring Brad Pitt and dinosaurs, but please don’t allow that to calibrate your attention span. Take a deep breath, and give it a shot. If you do, we think you might — albeit in spite of yourself — have a meaningful experience.” Or, Eat your peas because they’re good for you and because we can’t just have ice cream all the time, you feckless troglodytes.

The more-recent films of Terrence Malick are, in two insufficient words, lyrical and polarizing. A cursory Rotten Tomatoes jaunt confirms that “To The Wonder” was called both “the best American feature by far of 2013” and “a self-destructed misfire.” I saw “The Thin Red Line” in high school with friends who went in looking for two more hours of “Saving Private Ryan.” And post-screening eavesdroppings and conversations relative to the certainly lyrical-and-polarizing “Knight of Cups” have yielded (1) stunned, breathless utterances of profound gratitude, (2) shaking pledges of enthusiastic hatred from at least one respected friend and Malick fan, and (3) the overheard, apparently concerned puzzler, “Does Brian Dennehy have an issue with his back?”

The thing about “Knight of Cups” is that there isn’t just one thing about “Knight of Cups.” Or about “The Tree of Life,” or “The Thin Red Line.” “Knight” (literally) follows a reeling-and-gutted, hollow-eyed Bale (playing a screenwriter named Rick — though, I missed something, because I thought he was meant to be an actor until I checked the IMDB synopsis just now) through a numb, soft, swirling, glittering, emotionless-and-emotionally-harrowing minefield of beauty, decadence, lovers, and loss. Sounds are muted, dialogue Dopplers in and out, voiceover and chamber music and quotations from sources as varied as The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible and was-that-really-“Twin Peaks” abound, and the whole sordid, dreamy affair is awash in natural light and revealed by Chivo Lubezki’s always-swimming, too-close-for-anything-but-comfort camera. There’s a lot going on, always. You lean forward and push your ears up to catch everything, and you don’t catch everything. And so, you remain patient and open and have faith that everything will come together and make sense.

Increasingly, it may be said, certain of Malick’s films are in some ways less “films” and more experiential, stylized realities. And somehow, in their stylization, in their stream-of-fractured-consciousness, in their gauzy haze and sudden, uncanny specificity, they approximate reality and the sense of life more closely and accurately than the work of almost any other filmmaker who comes to mind. There is form in this formlessness, method in this Malickness. Malick’s work spends purposeful time breaking us of our expectations, of the ingrained and deep-dug structures and movie-languages we carry in unconscious second nature as veteran consumers of film; we find ourselves adrift, and it’s then that we truly begin paying attention — and finding inalienable personal meaning — moment by moment.

Malick isn’t the only cinematic artist who succeeds here. The universal value of film, and of art itself, lies (arguably, I suppose) in communicating love, in letting us know we are not alone. That’s the draw. I cannot, though, name another cinematic artist who does it quite like Malick, who achieves his particular, impressionistic poetry of intimacy. Is it repetitive and inscrutable, at times, or demanding of patience? Sure. Like life is. Is it susceptible to reductive parody? Yes, as are many vulnerable or distinctive works. Does he get more of a pass because he’s Malick, and because of his body of work? Yes, and that’s exactly as it should be.

There are wonderful, wonderful things about “Knight of Cups.” It’s a concert for the soul and the senses. Performances are raw, real, closer than you’ll ever get. Cate Blanchett shows, once again, that she can crack your heart wide open with a look. Michael Freaking Wincott is in it. (YES.) So is half of Hollywood. You still may not like it. (It’s kinda like “8½” meets Koyaanisqatsi, if that helps.) But there are very few films that will get you and everyone who saw it with you talking and feeling in the same way. And that, perhaps, is the point: “Knight of Cups” is the latest reminder and resounding reinforcement of how very, very desperately we need Terrence Malick — and the filmmakers he continues to inspire.

Thor: The Dark World

November 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Alan Taylor (“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Palookaville”)
Written by: Christopher Yost (debut), Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)

Before heading into the screening of “Thor: The Dark World,” my mind rang with an echo of a thought I had back in May, before “Iron Man 3” hit theaters. Here’s what I wrote then:

After the roaring success of last summer’s “The Avengers,” the biggest question facing the Marvel cinematic universe is “What’s next?” Since 2008, with the release of the original “Iron Man” film, everything that came afterward—vehicles for Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk—was build-up (for better or worse) to the epic team-up adventure of “The Avengers.” And boy, did it deliver, wowing critics and audiences on its way to becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. But after all of that (which Marvel is now calling Phase 1), what do you do?

The answer with Tony Stark’s third outing, and also with Thor’s sequel, was to stick the character back into a solo adventure that, instead of being a chapter in a larger story, marks time with epic battles for Macguffins until we see the Avengers assemble again in 2015.

“Thor: The Dark World” opens in a flashback, telling the tale of Thor’s grandfather Bor vanquishing the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves. Malekith’s goal was to use a powerful force known as the Aether to return the Nine Realms to a state of darkness, but Bor was able to contain the Aether in a hidden stone column. In the present, Thor and his warrior compatriots have brought peace to the Nine Realms, while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned for his crimes by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), still missing Thor, discovers a portal wherein she becomes possessed by the Aether. When Jane disappears from Earth, Heimdall (Idris Elba) informs Thor, who ventures to Earth to save Jane. The Aether’s release awakens Malekith and his forces, who will stop at nothing to capture Foster and release the Aether, plunging the Nine Realms back into darkness.

To say the mythology is dense is an understatement. There’s an awful lot going on here that ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, settling for a return to the status quo by the time the end credits roll–thanks mostly to a twist that seems to forego logic and is content to let future films figure out how to explain. For those concerned that Thor’s first cinematic outing spent too much time on Earth, “The Dark World” solves that problem by spending the vast majority of its runtime in and around the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid worlds of Asgard and beyond. While that answers the question all post-”Avengers” movies will struggle with—namely “why don’t the Avengers help out?”–it may leave casual fans of the Marvel movieverse feeling indifferent.

Director Alan Taylor, a veteran of HBO’s spiritually-similar “Game of Thrones,” has done a fine job expanding Thor’s home world, but in the process it seems he’s made the character more obtuse. I have a theory that at some point the general public will throw its hands up at one of these Marvel movies and say, “No more…that’s TOO comic-book-nerdy!” While “Thor: The Dark World” probably won’t be that tipping point, the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy,” previewed in one of the movies’ two post-credits sequences and featuring a blond, be-caped Benicio Del Toro, is the odd-on favorite to send this whole thing back into the sweaty hands of the fanboys.

Your Highness

April 15, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman
Directed by: David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”)
Written by: Danny McBride (“The Foot Fist Way”) and Ben Best (“The Foot Fist Way”)
 
It may only attract an audience who giggles whenever they hear the word “balls,” but “Your Highness” doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a sloppy dish of vulgarity with a mix of frat-boy and deadpan humor served up as a mindless medieval parody. Call it a guilty pleasure if you’d like, but “Your Highness” is as funny as it is un-ambitious. Comedian Danny McBride and Academy Award nominee and winner James Franco and Natalie Portman are so committed to the stupidity, it’s refreshing despite some one-trick pony jokes. Plus, it’s a little dispairing to see that director David Gordon Green, who has given us some great indie dramas like “All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels” earlier in his career, has decided to change routes, at least for his last couple of films. He may find success if he decides to stay, but it’s an unfortunate loss to indies.

No Strings Attached

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline
Directed by: Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex Girlfriend”)
Written by: Elizabeth Meriwether (debut)

To the average moviegoer, terms like “romantic comedy” and the less chivalrous-sounding “chick flick” are probably synonyms. A few clever filmmakers have discovered ways to divert from the typical clichés and create those rare date movies men and women can sit through without wondering why the hell they’re on a date with someone who enjoys this crap. In the last five years: “Lars and the Real Girl,” “Ghost Town,” “(500) Days of Summer,” and almost everything directed by Judd Apatow have been noteworthy contributions to the generally watered-down genre.

Then there are movies like “No Strings Attached,” a rom-com so desperate to be the next “The 40 Year Old Virgin” or “Knocked Up” (and thus peeling away the “chick flick” label) it only manages sporadic moments of originality before reverting back into safety-first Kate Hudson-mode.

It’s unfortunate, since “Strings” is starred by Natalie Portman, who comes off the most impressive role of her career in “Black Swan.” She rarely flaunts her comedic chops, much less in a rom-com as easily accessible as this. Here, she plays Emma, a cynical medical student-in-residence who opts for a casual sex-only relationship with Adam (Kutcher), a soft-hearted TV production assistant she’s known since his horny teenage years. Of course, with copulation comes those icky things called feelings and before another box of Trojans opens, the sexcapades have turned into fully-clothed spooning sessions (a no-no in “friends with benefits” etiquette).

While Portman is still charming despite the lightweight and occasionally raunchy dialogue by first-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether, the same can’t be said for Kutcher’s coyness. At least in a movie like “(500) Days of Summer,” actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was believable as a genuinely nice guy who falls in love with an icy princess. Kutcher’s mushy façade, however, is pitiful. It’s hard to accept him as a hopeless romantic when he’s drunk-dialing girls and asking them if they know of a place where he can put his boner.

At times, director Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex Girlfriend”) seems like he might cross the line and actually give these characters spines. But Reitman, who has never really gotten any dirtier than campers reading smut in “Meatballs,” is out of his element. Forcing the issue only makes matters worse, especially in a movie that mistakes a little fun between the sheets with edge.

Black Swan

December 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”)
Written by: Mark Heyman (debut), Andres Heinz (debut), John J. McLaughlin (“Man of the House”)

If searching for a young director with an audacious approach to filmmaking that is unlike anyone else working in the industry today, look no further than Darren Aronofsky.

While his last film, 2008’s critically-acclaimed drama “The Wrestler,” was less bizarre than some of his earlier works including “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” and “Pi,” Aronofsky finds his way back to an unusual narrative in “Black Swan,” a hypnotic, psycho-sexual thriller that plays like high-art horror.

Academy Award nominee Natalie Portman (“Closer”), who will definitely earn a second Oscar nod for her role here, plays Nina Sayers, a ballerina who is chosen as the fresh face of the company by her demanding director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell). Although Thomas chooses Nina as the lead for his version of “Swan Lake,” he’s not sure she has what it will take to perform both distinct parts of the classic ballet. While she is technically flawless and built to play the White Swan, Nina is missing the fiery passion needed to transform into the Black Swan.

With an overbearing (bordering on obsessive) mother (Barbara Hershey) at home watching her every move and a new ballerina (Mila Kunis) from San Francisco who might be out to take her role on stage, Nina’s paranoia begins to take effect on her fragile mental state.

Thus begins Aronofsky’s take on a metamorphosis that rivals David Cronenberg’s 1986 film “The Fly.” While not nearly as graphic in nature, “Black Swan” is just as intense and chilling. Portman, whose real-life ballet skills probably helped her earn the role, has never been better. It’s a confident performance in a beautiful and unnerving film that examines the significance of ambition and what someone will sacrifice to reach perfection.

Brothers

December 8, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Jim Sheridan (“In America”)
Written by: David Benioff (“The Kite Runner”)

Filmmaker Jim Sheridan wants us to know that war in hell, but in the melodramatic “Brothers” all the responsibility to exhibit the frustration and agony is put solely on the shoulders of actor Toby Maguire. Maguire, who mainstream audiences will identify as Spider-Man, has turned in some nice dramatic work in films like “Wonder Boys” and “The Cider House Rules,” but as a solider returning home from a devastating tour in Afghanistan only to find his wife (Natalie Portman) and outcast brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) have gotten closer, the emotions feel forced. Originally a very well-executed Danish film by Susanne Bier called “Brodre,” Sheridan and screenwriter David Benioff’s American version takes some fearless chances. Sometimes the intensity works, but overall a number of scenes feel disjointed from the ones they precede. See the original instead.

The Other Boleyn Girl

February 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eric Bana, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Justin Chadwick (“Sleeping with the Fishes”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“The Queen”)

Based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory, “The Other Boleyn Girl” gets all glamed up with nowhere to go for the same reasons as 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha.” All the literary pieces seem to be there in some fashion, but cinematically they evolve into a film less historically savvy and more melodramatic and unreal.

It is the early 16th century and King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is growing weary of having to wait for his queen, Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), to give birth to his heir to the throne. When her last pregnancy ends with a stillborn, the king ventures out to find a mistress to provide to him with a son.

He meets Anne Boleyn (Portman), a pretty daughter of the Boleyn family who is loosely connected to the royal court. Knowing this, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), who is brother of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas), sees an opportunity for the family to take advantage of the power that would be bestowed upon them if King Henry were to choose Anne as his lover. “Would you accept the challenge?” the king asks Anne, as if she was about to enter some sort of sexual gauntlet.

Henry’s attention, however, is diverted to Mary (Johansson), the other Boleyn girl, who quickly strikes his fancy without doing much. But could a man actually come between Mary and Anne as it does in this instance? In the opening sequence, screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) attempts to set up the idea that these two sisters are very close to one another. This thought is forgotten once both women flex their claws and do everything they can to seduce the king, who spends all of his time worrying about who he’s going to bed and no time actually doing anything a king would do.

Who believes Bana as the king anyway? He is a sore thumb and terribly miscast and Johansson, this generation’s most overrated actress, swoons enough for author Gregory’s next five novels. When she doesn’t, she situates herself behind simple dialogue and brilliant set design to blend into her surroundings. Only Portman, at least in the final act, is able to escape some of the formulaic scenes to prove there is actually blood pumping through one of the character in habiting the castle.

Still, there is direction missing in “Boleyn Girl,” which might not be so apparent if Morgan hadn’t written the script right after going on a Danielle Steele book-reading marathon. Where there should be passion there’s tacky love affairs. Where there should be strength from the crown, there’s a schoolboy crushing. Make no mistake about it, “The Other Boleyn Girl” will be an easy period piece to forget once the credits (and heads) roll.