Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

Jackie: After Dealey Plaza


Chilean director Pablo Larraín was about to make his first American film, but had doubts. He had been offered a biopic about Jackie Kennedy, but didn’t know anything about the Kennedys and the assassination other than what he (and we) had read in newspapers and books. But after reading Noah Oppenheim’s script (which had been on the interesting Hollywood Black List of unproduced screenplays), he felt a connection to the former First Lady. And those who have seen the film that first brought Larraín international attention, No (2012), will recognize his interest in how powerful figures use advertising and the media to shape a public image.

Some time after the murder of her husband, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) receives a journalist (Billy Crudup) at her home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. His job is to chronicle the life of the grieving widow and let her tell the nation what happened from her perspective. Jackie, who knows how the media works and what the people expect from her, takes on the painful task of recalling the chaotic events of November 22nd, 1963, the day when she ended up sitting in an open limousine racing to a hospital, holding her husband’s head in her lap. The following days became a grueling test, as she had to deal with her own grief, two small children and the planning of a state funeral, made even more complicated by the fact that everybody feared new assassination attempts in the nation’s capital…

Approaching the project the right way
A colleague of mine wasn’t too thrilled about this film; she had hoped to learn more about Jackie’s life, not just a retread of these horrific events. But I have to disagree. Some of the least effective biopics fail because the filmmakers try to cover too much. Oppenheim approached this project the right way, becoming fascinated with the daunting challenge of what Jackie Kennedy went through in the short period from the murder to the Arlington ceremony, and what her experiences and behavior says about her as a person. At first, it took me a while to get used to the mannerisms in Portman’s performance, but it becomes highly nuanced as the story progresses. We see Jackie talking to the journalist, Bobby Kennedy and a priest she confides in differently, in ways that help her achieve what she needs. In the first case, she’s somewhat manipulative, in the second more direct, refusing to let her brother-in-law get away with the secrecy that she always hated about her husband, and in the third case, angry but vulnerable, open to wise and consoling words from a man who is intelligent enough not to be condescending or offer easy answers. The priest is played by John Hurt in one of his last screen appearances, in one scene touchingly ruminating on how even a priest sometimes fears death and stares into the darkness. In spite of all the ceremony and details surrounding the dramatic events, in the end this is primarily a film about grief and why we choose to survive, and the tone of it is appropriately mournful, with a strikingly original, harsh music score by Mica Levi. The cinematography blends seamlessly with archive footage and recreates some of it with older equipment, just as Larraín did with that grainy 1980s videotape look for No. Madeline Fontaine’s costume design brings us back to the ’60s and the fashion that made Jackie an icon.

In the end, it’s interesting to see how Jackie in the middle of her grief and tumultuous events had the composure to preserve the image of her and her husband’s White House, creating almost a fairy tale inspired by a musical, ”Camelot”. Now there’s a PR genius. 

Jackie 2016-U.S.-Chile-France. 99 min. Color. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel, Juan de Dios Larraín, Mickey Liddell, Pascal Caucheteux. Directed by Pablo Larraín. Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim. Cinematography: Stéphane Fontaine. Music: Mica Levi. Costume Design: Madeline Fontaine. Cast: Natalie Portman (Jacqueline Kennedy), Peter Sarsgaard (Robert F. Kennedy), Greta Gerwig (Nancy Tuckerman), Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Max Casella… Richard E. Grant.

Trivia: Aronofsky originally intended to direct the film, with Rachel Weisz in the lead.

BAFTA: Best Costume Design. Venice: Best Screenplay.

Last word: “I said I would only do this with Natalie Portman. […] [Aronofsky] tells me he’ll set up the meeting and then it’s my problem. We meet and I tell her, ‘If you don’t do this movie I’m not doing it either. No pressure, but that’s how it is.’ Natalie asks to see my movies. We set up screenings. I was scared. Here’s Natalie alone in a cinema watching ‘The Club’! We meet again. We have another draft in which I had [screenwriter] Noah [Oppenheim] remove all the scenes without Jackie. Natalie accepts. I honestly didn’t expect someone like her to work with someone who made the movies I made. But this says a lot about her, that she’s willing to take risks with people.” (Larraín, Film Comment)



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They Will Win Golden Globes 2017

The Golden Globes are already coming up. The show will be on NBC this Sunday and Jimmy Fallon debuts as host. It’s the year of the two Jimmys, as Kimmel is hosting the Oscars in late February. Solid, albeit not terribly exciting, selections. 

Now here’s my predictions – category by category.


  • Motion Picture (Drama): Tough category. The choice is between Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. I believe in the former. 
  • Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical): La La Land.
  • Animated Feature: Zootopia.
  • Foreign Language Film: Elle has its fans, but I think Toni Erdmann will win.
  • Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land. Even though Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) might put up a fight.
  • Actor (Drama): Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea.
  • Actress (Drama): Natalie Portman, Jackie.
  • Actor (Comedy): Ryan Gosling, La La Land.
  • Actress (Comedy): Emma Stone, La La Land.
  • Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight.
  • Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences.
  • Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea.
  • Score: La La Land.
  • Song: “City of Stars” (La La Land).


  • Drama Series: This is Us might very well win, but another newcomer, The Crown, is my choice.
  • Comedy Series: Atlanta.
  • TV Movie/Limited Series: American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
  • Actor (Drama): Billy Bob Thornton just might win for the new show Goliath, but Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) is a contender.
  • Actress (Drama): Claire Foy, The Crown. Even though Evan Rachel Wood was magnificent in Westworld.
  • Actor (Comedy): Donald Glover, Atlanta.
  • Actress (Comedy): Issa Rae, Insecure.
  • Actor (TV Movie/Limited Series): I definitely believe in Courtney B. Vance for The People vs. O.J. Simpson, but some think the award belongs to Tom Hiddleston for The Night Manager.
  • Actress (TV Movie/Limited Series): Sarah Paulson, The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
  • Supporting Actor: Looks like John Lithgow will win for The Crown, but Sterling K. Brown might put up a fight for The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
  • Supporting Actress: Thandie Newton, Westworld.
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Jane Got a Gun


janegotagunWhen her husband (Noah Emmerich) comes home with bullet wounds, Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) teams up with a neighbor (Joel Edgerton) to fight a criminal gang. A troubled production eventually brought together director Gavin O’Connor and Edgerton (who both worked on Warrior (2011)) and they’ve staged a traditional Western where revenge must be exacted. Focus lies on Portman’s character, however, and as the story progresses we learn more about the tragic experiences that shaped her. The action is exciting, but on the whole this is conventional stuff with a happy ending that feels somewhat forced. 

2016-U.S. 98 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Natalie Portman, Terry Dougas, Aleen Keshishian, Scott LaStaiti, Mary Regency Boies, Zack Schiller, Scott Steindorff. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Screenplay: Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton. Cast: Natalie Portman (Jane Hammond), Joel Edgerton (Dan Frost), Noah Emmerich (Bill ”Ham” Hammond), Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, Ewan McGregor.

Trivia: Lynne Ramsay was originally hired as director, with Michael Fassbender and Jude Law in two of the leads. Bradley Cooper was allegedly considered for a role.

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The Greatest Hits of 2016

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2016 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.


* 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay leaves his robots aside for a while, taking on a politically sensitive subject. Looks far from another Zero Dark Thirty (2012) though.

* Kung Fu Panda 3 – Another entry in this popular animated franchise.

* Jane Got a Gun – Natalie Portman stars in a Western, alongside Ewan McGregor, about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband.


* Hail, Caesar! – Another star-studded comedy from the Coen brothers, where we follow the adventures of a Hollywood “fixer” (Josh Brolin). Looks like great fun. 

* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – A film adaptation of the bestseller that promises blood, gore and Victorian romance. Stars Lily James. 

* Zoolander 2 – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as the dim-witted models that we first met in 2001. The sequel is on a large scale and has many cameos, including Justin Bieber.

* Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds plays the superhero in a movie whose first trailer was wildly praised at its release during Comic-Con. The character is tied to the X-Men movies. 

* The Witch – This low-budget horror movie, which follows a 17th century Puritan family as it encounters evil in the New England woods, premiered at Sundance last January and is finally bowing in theaters. 


* London Has Fallen – The sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (2013) moves the action to London. Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler are back as the President and his Secret Service agent.

* Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick is back with a movie following a Hollywood screenwriter. Starring Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, the trailer looks very “malicky”. 

* The Divergent Series: Allegiant – The last book in the popular series has been divided into two movies; here’s the first part. 

* Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – The most talked about superhero movie of the year, a follow-up to Man of Steel (2013). Starring Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.


* The Boss – A new Melissa McCarthy comedy is usually worthy of some attention. This one has her as a ruthless former executive who’s sent to prison. Her husband Ben Falcone directs.

* The Jungle Book – Jon Favreau’s live-action take on the Disney classic was originally supposed to have premiered in 2015. Featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.

* Everybody Wants Some – Richard Linklater’s new movie has been described as sort of a sequel to both Boyhood and Dazed and Confused.


* Captain America: Civil War – The third Captain America puts Cap (Chris Evans) in conflict with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). This year’s biggest Marvel event.

* Snowden – Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the famous whistleblower in Oliver Stone’s take on how Snowden leaked classified documents to the press. Expect controversy.

* The Nice Guys – Shane Black is back with another action-comedy that looks overly familiar… but the trailer is funny, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling seem game.

* X-Men: Apocalypse – This one follows X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and has the younger versions of our most famed mutants battling the world’s first mutant.

* Alice Through the Looking Glass– I was no big fan of the original Alice in Wonderland (2010), but we’ll have to see what Muppets director James Bobin has up his sleeve. Several of the first film’s stars return.


* The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist – The first film was damned scary, so James Wan’s sequel had better be good. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the ghost-hunting couple. 

* Warcraft – Duncan Jones is adapting the famous game and we’re all wondering if this is the one that will change the sad reputation of movies based on video games.

* Finding Dory – The follow-up to Finding Nemo (2003) has the same challenge as The Conjuring 2 – how can you top a beloved sequel? The trailer shows that Pixar likely has found the lovely tone of the first movie.

* Independence Day: Resurgence – 20 years have passed since the first Independence Day, and this sequel brings back some of the old stars as well as new ones. And, of course, the aliens are back.


* The BFG – Steven Spielberg directs this family-friendly story about a giant. Based on a Roald Dahl story, the script was written by the late Melissa Mathison who also wrote E.T..

* The Legend of Tarzan – Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan in this take on the classic story, directed by David Yates. The trailer suggests a rather traditional approach. 

* Ghostbusters – The remake of the 1984 comedy classic has women replacing the male ghostbusters of the original. Stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig; directed by their Bridesmaids helmer, Paul Feig.

* Star Trek Beyond – The third movie in this new franchise premiered a trailer a few weeks ago that sent fans into a rage. Will it honor the predecessors or turn into a new Fast and Furious?

The Bourne sequel – It still doesn’t have a title, this fourth movie in the franchise to star Matt Damon, the first since 2007. Paul Greengrass is back as director.


* Suicide Squad – David Ayer directs this dark DC Comics adventure that unites supervillains recruited by the government. Will Smith leads the cast; Jared Leto plays the Joker. 


* A Cure for Wellness – We don’t know much about this project, but it’s a supernatural horror movie directed by the very uneven Gore Verbinski. Dane DeHaan has the lead role. 

* Sully – Clint Eastwood directs this film about the pilot who heroically landed a plane on the Hudson River. Tom Hanks plays “Sully”.

* Deepwater Horizon – The story of the 2010 disaster that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is directed by Peter Berg and stars Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.


* The Accountant – Warrior director Gavin O’Connor is back with a thriller starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons.

* Gambit – After Deadpool comes this, another spin-off set in the X-Men universe. Doug Liman is directing, with Channing Tatum in the lead.

* Inferno – Ron Howard is once again directing this third entry in the franchise that began with The Da Vinci Code (2006); Tom Hanks also returns as Robert Langdon.

* Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Tom Cruise returns as Lee Child’s antihero, now directed by Edward Zwick. This time, Reacher is accused of an old homicide.


* Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surgeon who discovers a world of magic and different dimensions. Another Marvel adventure gets its big-screen treatment.

* Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – David Yates’s second movie this year is a return to Harry Potter world for him; this is a prequel set in the 1920s, starring Eddie Redmayne.

* The Great Wall – Hollywood’s love affair with the Chinese market continues with this film about a mystery surrounding the construction of China’s Great Wall. Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Matt Damon.

* The Founder – The story of the man who turned a small hamburger joint into McDonald’s stars Michael Keaton.


* Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A stand-alone film, a prequel to Star Wars (1977), depicting a team of rebels trying to get their hands on the plans for the Death Star. Directed by Gareth Edwards. 

* Passengers – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this space romance set in the future, directed by The Imitation Game‘s Morten Tyldum.

* Assassin’s Creed – The second adaptation this year to possibly save the reputation of movies based on video games. Stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. 

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Heat: Cops and Robbers


heatI remember watching this movie in a theater back in 1995. After about two hours, a woman asked someone sitting close to her, “Do you know how long this movie is?”. He did know, told her and the woman just left. Some people don’t have the stomach for a story that needs time to evolve. In fact, I underestimated the film as well back then, thinking the story didn’t really need three hours. After watching it again now, twenty years later, I have to correct myself – this is a first-rate action-thriller.

In Los Angeles, Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his team of robbers hit an armored car and steal $1.6 million in bonds. However, the newest member of the team (Ted Levine) kills one of the guards, which changes everything; the other robbers shoot the remaining guards so as not to leave witnesses. McCauley wanted a “clean” hit and tries to kill this unreliable new team member, but he escapes. Police detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is on the case and it doesn’t take him long to figure out who are responsible for the hit and the murders. Capturing McCauley and his team, who are very good at what they do, is another thing though.

First attempt: A TV movie
Director Michael Mann wrote this story in 1979 and had hopes of turning it into a movie after making Thief (1981). The first attempt was made for TV, called L.A. Takedown and aired on NBC in 1989; this was after Mann’s success with Miami Vice and NBC’s original hope was to turn the concept into another hit show. That didn’t happen – which is good, because in the mid-90s, Mann had built enough clout as a filmmaker to talk two huge movie stars into playing the leads in a more ambitious big-screen version. Inspired by a real story (from the 1960s, where detective Chuck Adamson hunted the real-life Neil McCauley), this film highlights the similarities between the cop and the criminal, especially in a very memorable scene where they have coffee in a diner and talk about how they live their lives; we also meet the women they’re involved with, relationships that never have a future. That part of the film is the most difficult to handle because of obvious clichés, but Mann still does it intelligently, depicting a sort of sad inevitability to the proceedings. Many of these emotional scenes are set at night, with a dramatic view of the city and its lights, creating a melancholic tone, aided by Eliot Goldenthal’s discreet music score. The running time is indeed long, but Mann keeps us glued, especially thanks to his explosive, expertly staged action scenes, which are on an operatic level. That goes especially for a long sequence where a bank job leads to a violent shootout with the police in broad daylight in the middle of the city. The cast is very strong. Much was made of De Niro and Pacino doing a movie together for the first time since The Godfather, Part II (1974) where they never shared a scene. They come close to not doing it here either, but when they do (the scene in the diner, the final showdown between them at an airport with jets roaring over their heads) it’s pure dynamite – and even a bit touching. It is also interesting to see a young Natalie Portman in a small role as the emotionally frail daughter of Pacino’s wife.

Pretentious to some degree, this film still has a hypnotic feeling that the director has tried to repeat a few times in movies like Collateral (2004) and Miami Vice (2006), but he was less successful. What bored that woman who left the cinema obviously fascinated a lot more people. 

Heat 1995-U.S. 172 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Art Linson, Michael Mann. Written and directed by Michael Mann. Cinematography: Dante Spinotti. Music: Elliot Goldenthal. Cast: Al Pacino (Vincent Hanna), Robert De Niro (Neil McCauley), Val Kilmer (Chris Shiherlis), Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora… Ashley Judd, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria, Jeremy Piven.

Trivia: Keanu Reeves was allegedly considered for a role.

Last word: “One of the ex-convicts we talked to during the research period described how, no matter how pathological someone doing life in Folsom without the possibility of parole might be, there’s one day every two months at three in the morning when [the lifer] wakes up and says to himself, like a ten- or twelve-year-old boy, ‘How did I fuck my life up this bad? How did I end up like this?’ The point is, everybody has emotions, regrets, expectations. People don’t walk around as a personification of moral conclusions. They walk around with the package of who they are. That’s real. It’s also very dramatic.” (Mann, “Michael Mann – Cinema and Television: Interviews, 1980-2012”)

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Thor: The Dark World

thor2After the events of The Avengers (2012), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is brought back to Asgard in chains, but Thor (Chris Hemsworth) soon faces another formidable enemy – a dark elf looking for revenge. Helmed by a new director, this sequel to Thor (2011) nevertheless maintains the same tone, successfully blending comedy and action in imaginative, colorful 3D landscapes. The story has Loki manipulating our minds, while also throwing us from one realm to the next (including Earth, sorry, Midgard), sometimes even in the middle of a battle. Very familiar, but deftly handled.

2013-U.S. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Alan Taylor. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston… Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins. Cameos: Benicio Del Toro, Stan Lee, Chris Evans.

Trivia: Followed by Thor: Ragnarok (2017).

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Your Highness


yourhighnessWhen a virgin that his dashing brother (James Franco) is about to marry is kidnapped by a sorcerer, slacker Thadeous (Danny McBride) joins the quest to save her. A fantasy comedy from the Pineapple Express (2008) director who reunites with both Franco and McBride. The movie is wrapped in silliness; some of it is worth a snicker or two, but most of the drug and sex jokes are too childish and ineffective. Natalie Portman is fun to watch as a deadly warrior; McBride was slammed for his laidback performance, but I think it fits his character.

2011-U.S. 102 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David Gordon Green. Screenplay: Danny McBride, Ben Best. Cast: Danny McBride (Thadeous), James Franco (Fabious), Natalie Portman (Isabel), Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Toby Jones… Damian Lewis, Charles Dance.

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The Greatest Hits of 2013

It’s time for that annual list of this year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2013 for ya.


* The Last Stand – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring vehicle in ten years. Not expecting great things.

* Broken City – Allen Hughes directs this political thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe.


* Warm Bodies – Director Jonathan Levine last made 50/50, so this romantic zombie movie has to be checked out.

* Identity Thief – Melissa McCarthy has two major comedies out this year, which could propel her into greater things. The first one also stars Jason Bateman.

* A Good Day to Die Hard – The fifth movie in the franchise. None of the predecessors have disappointed so far.


* Oz: The Great and Powerful – Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939) has a few trailers promising exciting stuff.


* The Heat – The Bridesmaids director strikes with another comedy, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Looks like another Stakeout, and could be a major hit.

* 42 – Brian Helgeland directs this drama about Jackie Robinson. Co-starring Harrison Ford.

* To the Wonder – Terrence Malick’s latest, with Ben Affleck leading the cast.

* Oblivion – Science fiction with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.


* Iron Man 3 – Shane Black directs this first follow-up to The Avengers.

* The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann’s take on the iconic novel.

* Star Trek: Into Darkness – The second film in J.J. Abrams’s new vision of the old franchise.

* The Hangover Part III – A chance for this gang to redeem themselves.


* Much Ado About Nothing – Joss Whedon does Shakespeare.

* Man of Steel – Superman, as envisioned by Zack Snyder.

* Monsters University – Pixar’s big summer movie is a sequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001).

* World War Z – Zombies, Brad Pitt… and Marc Forster in the directing chair. Looks like a challenging combo.


* The Lone Ranger – Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski reunite from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for an American Western classic.

* Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro directing something that looks like a huge Michael Bay adventure.

* The Wolverine – Hugh Jackman returns in his most famous role, this time directed by James Mangold.


* Elysium – District 9 director Neill Blomkamp returns with a sci-fi thriller starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.


* Rush – Ron Howard’s biopic of legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda and the crash that almost killed him. Starring Daniel Brühl.

* The Tomb – Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger break out of a prison; directed by Mikael Håfström.


* Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s follow-up to their 2005 movie.

* Oldboy – Spike Lee’s remake of the South Korean classic.

* Captain Phillips – Paul Greengrass’s latest is a story about Somali pirates hijacking an American cargo ship, helmed by Tom Hanks.

* Carrie – The remake of the 1976 horror classic is directed by Kimberly Peirce of Boys Don’t Cry fame.

* Malavita – Luc Besson’s gangster movie features Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones in the cast.


* Thor: The Dark World – The sequel reunites Chris Hemsworth with Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Dark Elves are also involved.

* The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen.


* The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – OK, so the first chapter was disappointing. Perhaps Peter Jackson will get it right this time?

* Anchorman: The Legend Continues – Fans are in for a letdown. The original wasn’t that great to begin with, and now they’re expecting the sequel to be a masterpiece. Oy vey.

* The Monuments Men – George Clooney directs this story about museum curators and art historians trying to rescue vital pieces of art before Hitler gets his hands on them. Starring Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Daniel Craig.

* Saving Mr. Banks – Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Need I say more? OK, the movie also stars Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

* Last Vegas – Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman partying in Vegas.

* Jack Ryan – Kenneth Branagh directs this action triller, a reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Branagh and Keira Knightley.

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The Other Boleyn Girl


In 1520s England, Queen Catherine is unable to give Henry VIII (Eric Bana) a son and the King’s attention wanders to two beautiful sisters, the Boleyns (Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson)… The story of Anne Boleyn we’ve heard before, but this drama focuses on the alleged rivalry between the ambitious Anne and her much more timid sister Mary. We follow them as their family prepares to do whatever it takes to secure a place in the King’s court. The politics of those times were treated more successfully on The Tudors, but this is nevertheless engaging enough, with good performances.

2008-U.S. Britain. 114 min. Color. Directed by Justin Chadwick. Screenplay: Peter Morgan. Novel: Philippa Gregory. Cast: Natalie Portman (Anne Boleyn), Scarlett Johansson (Mary Boleyn), Eric Bana (Henry VIII), Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, David Morrissey… Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne. 

Trivia: Keira Knightley was allegedly considered for a role. The story was also filmed for British TV in 2003.


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Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the hot-headed son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is banished to Earth, which becomes an opportunity for his brother (Tom Hiddleston) to seize power of Asgard. The fourth film in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe shares ideas and references with its predecessors, and by the time a near-indestructible machine that looks like leftovers from Iron Man makes an appearance, it’s obvious that the concept needs fresher ideas. Still, this is a fun, handsome 3D production with a game cast, especially Hemsworth who plays the hero with his tongue firmly in cheek.

2011-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Comic Book: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings… Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo. Cameos: Stan Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner.

Trivia: At various points, Sam Raimi and Matthew Vaughn allegedly considered directing the film; Jim Carrey was considered for the part of Loki and Brad Pitt as Thor. Thor joined forces with Iron Man, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk for The Avengers (2012). Followed by two sequels, starting with Thor: The Dark World (2013).


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Black Swan: Diary of a Mad Woman


blackswanThe Wrestler (2008) portrayed an man who suffered for his art; as a professional wrestler he had to torture his body in order to give the audience what it craved. Director Darren Aronofsky considers Black Swan to be a companion piece. The film shares similar themes with The Wrestler, but its main focus doesn’t lie on the painful physical process behind a ballet performance, but the mental illness that’s about to break the protagonist. The audience might have felt more comfortable merely observing this condition, but Aronofsky forces us to take part in it. It’s not a horror movie, but it will certainly make your skin crawl.

At the New York City Ballet Company, the brilliant director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is preparing a new take on Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”. He needs a dancer capable of portraying both the innocent White Swan and the evil Black Swan. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) desperately wants the part, but Leroy is far from convinced; he knows that the timid Nina can do White Swan but he has yet to see her dark side. What he doesn’t know is that Nina has certain issues that few others know about. She shares an apartment with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) who has devoted her entire life to her daughter and potential success in ballet. Nina has had problems in the past, scratching parts of her body until it bleeds. As she competes for the “Swan Lake” part, she seems to be hurting herself again and also starting to see strange things. Eventually, Nina lands the part of the Swan twins, which thrills her… but the nightmarish visions only intensify.

Pure Cronenberg
There’s a lot going on in this film and it’s hard not to be fascinated. Aronofsky wanted to do a story about understudies, what it feels like to be shadowed by a double. All About Eve (1950) comes to mind and that part of the film is represented by the confident and blunt Lily (Mila Kunis) who becomes Nina’s understudy and a person Nina considers a threat as well as an object of sexual desire. Startlingly, she sees herself in others at times and those scenes are reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s eerie The Tenant (1976). The theme of self-mutilation and the unlimited possibility of the human body as a tool is pure Cronenberg, of course. Tortured feet, sharp scissors cutting fingers and skin that gets ripped off one’s body… it all serves as an entrée to the real feast, the final half-hour where Nina merges entirely with the physical and mental aspects of her “Swan Lake” character. Often we are not entirely sure of what’s real and Aronofsky likes to keep it that way; we should be on edge, just like Nina. The director and his collaborators cleverly turn the entire film into a frenzied, very dark, operatic show that takes characteristics of ballet (such as the physical hard work and the always present mirrors) and make them part of what is sick in Nina’s life. Most films about ballet celebrate the beauty of the art; this one makes it look like something Satan invented. Portman invested a lot into her character; she wanted to do something decidedly adult and she carries the film through some of its sillier moments. She’s very ably assisted by Hershey as the mother who enables Nina’s illness and Kunis as the sexy dancer who in Nina’s mind turns into a lesbian schemer.

Some critics thought the film is too overblown. Also, I couldn’t help laughing a little at Cassel’s stereotypical character, an insulting Frenchman who uses sex to manipulate the women who work for him. Still, this is a highly intelligent, raw and very visual experience that leaves one breathless.

Black Swan 2010-U.S. 108 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, John McLaughlin. Cinematography: Matthew Libatique. Editing: Andrew Weisblum. Cast: Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied.

Trivia: Meryl Streep was allegedly considered for the part of Nina’s mother.

Oscar: Best Actress (Portman). BAFTA: Best Actress (Portman). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Portman).

Last word: “[Portman and I] talked a bit about it and I started to develop it, but it was a really tough film because getting into the ballet world proved to be extremely challenging. Most of the time, when you do a movie and you say, ‘Hey, I want to make a movie about your world,’ all the doors open up, and you can do anything and see anything you want. The ballet world really wasn’t at all interested in us hanging out, so it took a long time to get the information to put it together. Over the years, Natalie would say, ‘I’m getting too old to play a dancer. You better hurry up.’ I was like, ‘Natalie, you look great. It’ll be fine.’ And then, about a year out from filming, or maybe a little bit earlier, I finally got a screenplay together. That’s how it started.” (Aronofsky, Collider)

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brothers09Marine Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) leaves his wife and children for a tour in Afghanistan; when he’s reported killed, his screw-up brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes almost a surrogate father. This drama has the potential of greatness, but anyone looking for the real deal should check out the original, the Danish Brothers (2004). Jim Sheridan’s take on the story is faithful, but oddly uninvolving even though it is particularly relevant to an American audience. One reason is Maguire who looks a bit creepy even before his stint in Afghanistan.

2009-U.S. 104 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Screenplay: David Benioff. Cast: Tobey Maguire (Sam Cahill), Jake Gyllenhaal (Tommy Cahill), Natalie Portman (Grace Cahill), Sam Shepard, Bailee Madison, Patrick Flueger… Carey Mulligan.

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Star Wars Episode I: Vader’s Boyhood Years


According to Merriam Webster, the word “anticipation” means among other things “pleasurable expectation”. They might as well have included an image of the poster for this film, the fourth in the Star Wars series, the first in chronological order. George Lucas had prepared its arrival wisely by re-releasing the technically juiced up first three films in 1997. Two years later, there was no way that you were not going to see the phenomenon known as The Phantom Menace.

The story starts from the beginning, taking place a half-century earlier than Star Wars (1977). The Trade Federation and the Republic are involved in a trade dispute that has led to a blockade of the planet Naboo. Two Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are dispatched to Naboo to solve the conflict but they walk into a trap set by Darth Sidious, an evil figure that controls the Trade Federation. The knights escape and liberate Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) who had been detained by the Federation. The three of them head for Coruscant to ask for the Senate’s help; they make a pit stop on Tatooine, a desert planet, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and his mother (Pernilla August) who are held as slaves by a junk dealer. Qui-Gon senses that the Force is strong with the boy (who is also quite the inventor) and tries to trick the junk dealer into agreeing to free him if Anakin wins a dangerous pod race. Meantime, Darth Sidious has sent a special apprentice of his, Darth Maul (Ray Park), to kidnap the Queen and kill the Jedis.

Too kid-friendly chapter
After watching the first three films a few weeks ago it is interesting to see how much technology had improved in the years between 1983 and 1999. This film has stunning visuals of the places that Lucas created in his mind and the CGI makes several sequences not only look damn fine but also has you thinking that they could probably not have been made 20 years ago. The most thrilling action set piece is of course the pod race, held at breakneck speed. Another highly memorable scene is the fight between the knights and Darth Maul, an intimidating new villain that one would have wanted to see more of. Other characters are less successful. The most heavily criticized is Jar-Jar Binks, an annoying, inane, computer-animated sidekick that had some people accusing the director of having created a racist stereotype. Jar-Jar is a stupid addition to an already too kid-friendly Star Wars chapter that also features the very American, apple-cheeked Lloyd as the ever chipper Anakin. Die-hard nerds will get a kick out of the political intrigues that would lead to the rise of the Galactic Empire, but the story is uneven and the cast is not really a good enough replacement for the charisma of Hamill-Ford-Fisher. However, John Williams’s music helps remind one of the glory days.

The best part of the film is watching all the details that give clues to future chapters. It’s not a movie for newcomers. That pleasure cannot be tainted, not even by cute Hollywood brats.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 1999-U.S. 133 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by George Lucas. Music: John Williams. Cast: Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé Amidala), Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker), Samuel L. Jackson, Pernilla August… Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Sofia Coppola, Keira Knightley. Voice of Frank Oz.

Trivia: Sally Hawkins is an extra; this was her feature film debut. Kenneth Branagh was allegedly considered for the part of Obi-Wan; Benicio Del Toro for Darth Maul. Re-released to theaters in 3D in 2012. Followed by Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002).

Razzie: Worst Supporting Actor (Jar-Jar Binks (as performed by Ahmed Best)).


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