Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “JFK”

Jackie

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th January 2017

4.5 stars, Rated M, 99 mins

The first thing that strikes you when watching Natalie Portman on screen as Jackie Kennedy is that the actress must have done her homework. Portman, an Oscar winner for Black Swan who has forged a reputable career since she debuted at age 12 in Leon: The Professional, took a break from Hollywood to complete a psychology degree at Harvard because she considers being smart more important than being famous. And so, if the strangely accented, halting drawl comes across as a bit mannered in her evocation of JFK’s First Lady, rest assured that Portman will have worked tirelessly for this role, and what we’re seeing is the real deal.

jackie

Jackie is a strange sort of biopic in many ways. Principally, it doesn’t seek to tell the tale from the beginning – we learn nothing of how the socialite met her prince and established the house of Camelot. Instead, the film focuses on the days surrounding JFK’s assassination in Dallas, skipping between Jackie’s interview with a dispassionate reporter (a steely and terrific Billy Crudup) as she conjures up recollections of that dreadful day, and a depiction of the actual event and its immediate aftermath.

With a great cast and evident dedication to accurately relaying history, it’s an often devastating watch. Portman’s superb performance as distraught widow is underscored by the tension between her right to privately grieve and a lack of time in which to do it. The brutal haste with which JFK is succeeded is galling: Vice President and Lady Johnson (a perfect John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant) make excellent villains as Jackie witnesses his swearing in as President on Air Force One mere hours after the shooting, while she stands dazed in the background.

The other thing that marks Jackie out is director Pablo Larrain’s very particular style of filmmaking. Shot on 16mm film, every frame looks like archive footage from the period (excepting the small quibble that Portman is too beautiful to truly convince as the albeit stylish Jackie O), and several scenes are recreated shot for shot from clips you can view for yourself on YouTube. The production design of the White House and, of course, Jackie’s signature suits are spot-on, while her staffers (Greta Gerwig, Richard E. Grant, both terrific) and brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) perfectly embody the 1960s in their speech and attitudes.

But above all, this is Portman’s film. With tangible pain, she portrays a woman preoccupied by her husband’s legacy and reputation, while clearly drowning in grief. There is nothing as lonely as the sight of the former First Lady wandering vacantly around the White House in a pink suit stained with her husband’s blood. Harrowing and fascinating, Jackie is a beautiful, painful throwback to a terrible moment in history.

Spending ev’ry dime

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Among this film’s many incomprehensible clichés dressed up as witty truisms, Gordon Gekko says (and I’m paraphrasing – because frankly this was so incomprehensible and inherently unwitty, I have to break it down for you) – “Money is a bitch of a woman – she watches you sleeping, with one eye open, and you have to give her the attention she wants otherwise one day you’ll wake up and she’ll be gone”.

Huh?

Director Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street starred an as-yet unsullied and unlaughable Charlie Sheen as a young trader who makes millions, lives the high life, gets a conscience, and brings down the big guy (Michael Douglas).  Despite its mid-80s look ‘n’ feel, it’s still watchable and enjoyable in 2010, if only for the sake of living vicariously the lives of the disgustingly rich and Machiavellian for two hours.  And then shaking off the mucky feeling one gets from reading trashy celebrity magazines and coveting material possessions one doesn’t need.  Well, that’s just me.

Imagine my excitement when the trailer screened earlier this year: a haggard Gordon Gekko being released from eight years in prison – the warder details the belongings he went in with – a gold watch; a money clip with no money; a mobile phone… and with a clunk, the classic retro “brick” is placed on the counter.  Gekko walks out with fellow releasees, sees a limo drive up, goes to climb in – and is pipped at the post by a young African American in hip-hop street gear.  Gordon’s face says it all – what is this world he’s returning to?

It turns out his world is one of “frugal” living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan, a nonexistent relationship with his daughter Winnie (latest English rose, Carey Mulligan, accent wavering), and the attentions of Winnie’s fiancé, Wall Street trader Jake (the dashing Shia LaBeouf, doing his best with mature material but still in my view far too young and unconvincing for the role).  Gordon wants back in Winnie’s life; Jake wants in on Gordon’s expertise.

Apparently Oliver Stone and his crew wrote this film as the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis – keep up now) shattered the jaw of the worldwide banking industry.  I thought this was ingenious – bring back Gordon Gekko as a harbinger of doom, a Sybil that (of course) everyone ignores.  Watch it all go up in smoke.

But instead the film is a mish-mash of complicated (and dull) dialogue about stocks and trades and hedgefunds or something, made “simple” for us non-bankers by use of a split-screen (in case we can’t keep up with who the characters are, and need to be shown who Jake is on the phone to) and fancy computer imagery of fusion energy and… um, they lost me there.  Not that I cared.  What about Jake and Winnie?!  Will she mind he’s been secretly meeting her dad?  Has Gordon’s leopard really changed his spots?  What’s weird about Shia’s hairline??

Stone obviously pulled in a good cast – we get cameos from Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and the return of Sylvia Miles as the realtor who lets Jake his apartment (having rented to Charlie Sheen back in 1987).  Josh Brolin, doing well with a 2-dimensional character and boring dialogue, plays the baddy.  Probably one of the most exciting moments (which says it all) was Sheen’s Bud Fox turning up at a fundraiser with two girlfriends.  Nice to see art imitating life.

While I expect so much from Oliver Stone, having been a big fan of JFK, Platoon and even Natural Born Killers (well, it was very of its time), this film disappointed on many levels.  It is flabby and overlong, completely unexciting, and there is nothing at stake for anyone (some of the father-daughter scenes bordered on emotional, but were then dampened by subsequent goings-on).  The real-life chemistry of Mulligan and LaBeouf had some beautiful moments, but couldn’t save the heartlessness of the story.  Probably my greatest annoyance is reserved for the appallingly inappropriate score – a combination of lacklustre David Byrne and Brian Eno songs, and composer Craig Armstrong rehashing his music from 1999’s Plunkett & Macleane (“original music”, my eye).  Never has a movie about stocks and bonds had greater need of some Hans Zimmer to tell us when the stakes are high and lives are in peril.

Incredibly, the film opened today in the States as well as here in NZ (wow! I feel unusually on the ball).  Just in time, then, for me to manage people’s expectations.  I can’t predict how much this will make worldwide, but I suggest Stone sleeps with one eye open to ensure his Money doesn’t walk out in the middle of the night.

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