"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Annihilation: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT in the theatre. SEE IT on Netflix or cable.

Annihilation, written and directed by Alex Garland and based upon the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, is the story of Lena, a biologist who ventures into a mysterious and ominous anomaly dubbed "The Shimmer", in order to find out what happened to her husband. The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena, with supporting performances from Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez.

Alex Garland, a Mickey™® Award-winning writer, is one of my favorite screenwriters and his directorial debut, Ex Machina, was simply stellar, so I was very excited to see his sophomore directing effort, Annihilation. Sadly, Annihilation pales in comparison to the science fiction masterpiece that is Ex Machina, and although it is a nobly ambitious film, Annihilation is ultimately unsatisfying because it is so terribly uneven. 

Garland is usually a masterful and original writer, but his script for Annihilation resorts to a lot of ungainly exposition, sci-fi/horror film tropes and central casting caricatures instead of complex characters. 

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There are some errors of logic in the film that are absolutely maddening as well, for instance, why set up a guard post on the ground at night, with a light on in it directed inward not outward (thus blinding the guard), when everyone else is safe in a tower inaccessible to any dangerous elements. Or why run after a comrade dragged away by something mysterious but not take your weapon with you? These logical errors make it difficult to get absorbed into the reality of the film and thus keep viewers at an arms distance when they should be getting pulled ever closer. 

The film also suffers because it is, at times, little more than a hodge-podge of the usual horror movie scare tactics, some taken directly from classics like Alien. There is also the rather lame and predictable war movie standard of giving brief background on each of the diverse women making up the group that heads into The Shimmer. There is the tough chick from Chicago, the nerdy physicist, the bitter and grizzled older woman and the wounded soul that everyone likes. You can see these same characters in their male form in any war or sci-fi film you can think of…from Saving Private Ryan to Predator

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The film also struggles with its pacing and never really hits its stride until well into its final third. That said, the third act is Alex Garland at his best. The themes and philosophical ideas tackled in the final act are fascinating, but the journey to get to them so conventional as to be frustrating. In many ways, it felt to me like the film should've have started at the beginning of the third act, as the ending of the movie could propel you into another entirely intriguing drama.

Natalie Portman does solid but unspectacular work as the protagonist Lena. Portman carries the narrative through its twists and turns with enough movie star magnetism to keep your attention but she never rises to any great acting heights, which is not a knock against her as her job here is to be solid and steady and she does that.

The rest of the cast though, does surprisingly sub-par work. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a terrific actress, but she feels disconnected from the material and oddly subdued. Oscar Isaac is particularly bad in his role as Kane, a Special Forces soldier. Isaac lacks the quiet gravitas and physically imposing but understated menace of a believable Special Forces operator. He also gives his character a southern accent, and does it so incredibly poorly that it further undermines his believability in the role. Not only does Isaac's accent slip in and out at random, but when he does focus on it, it is so over the top as to be laughably absurd. Isaac is an actor I have been giving the benefit of the doubt to for some time now, but after an uninterrupted string of really poor performances, I am ready to declare that Oscar Isaac is in fact, not a good actor. All of the other performances in the supporting cast are rather forgettable due to their one-dimensionality.

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On the bright side, Rob Hardy's cinematography in Annihilation is truly outstanding. The film is beautifully shot and is a thoroughly proficient exercise in technical filmmaking as both the visuals and the sound are extremely well done. Hardy's framing in particular is superb and his use of vibrant color and crisp contrast turn "The Shimmer" portion of the film into a sumptuously magnificent Ayahuasca fever dream. This dazzling Shimmer effect is further enhanced by Hardy's subdued palette and tones in the "regular world" portions of the film. 

In conclusion, Annihilation is a visually beautiful, philosophically ambitious film that stumbles out of the gate and never quite reaches its stride until its fascinating third act, but by then it is too late. Thin character development, clunky dialogue and poor pacing scuttle what could have been a truly impressive film. If you are a connoisseur of cinematography, you may want to venture to the theaters to see Annihilation on the big screen, as it is gorgeous, but if you are more interested in the overall quality of a film, or in simply being entertained, I recommend you wait to see this film on Netflix or cable for free, and arm yourself with a hearty dose of low expectations.  

©2018

 

Some Brief Thoughts on the Golden Globes

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 28 seconds

It is difficult to imagine a less relevant awards show than the Golden Globes, which unveiled their 2018 edition last night. The Golden Globes are so ridiculous they make the Emmys look like the Nobel Prize for Physics. 

Golden Globe awards are notorious for being routinely purchased (most infamously - Pia Zadora) and are like Chinese food, twenty minutes after digesting the Golden Globes show, no one actually cares or remembers who won. For years the Golden Globes award show has been little more than "Hollywood's biggest party" and the unwashed rubes who weren't invited get to watch the festivities on their television sets.

Last night's show has garnered a lot of attention because it was all about #MeToo and the accompanying self-aggrandizing emotionalist nonsense that surrounds it (like the shaming of Blanca Blanco for not wearing black, which is a wonderfully totalitarian thing to do!!). I once had a conversation with a friend, a Jungian psychologist, who talked about how with narcissists even their pain must be perceived to be exponentially greater than everyone else's, and so it is with Hollywood and #MeToo.

Contrary to popular opinion, the reason that #MeToo is happening right now is not because sexual abuse and harassment were shockingly revealed to have happened in Hollywood, everyone in Hollywood, myself included, knew to some extent it was happening well before the Weinstein "revelations". No, the real reason #MeToo is happening is because people outside of Hollywood have been made aware of the rampant abuse and harassment that routinely goes on here and Hollywood is embarrassed by that…the women of Hollywood most of all. The jet fuel of #MeToo is not the claimed outrage of Hollywood's women, but the shame felt by women who accepted abuse and harassment as business as usual, or who made deals with the devil in order to advance their career or who failed to stand up for themselves or their compatriots when they had the chance. No doubt I will be publicly slammed for "victim shaming" for stating this obviousness, but trust me when I tell you…this is EXACTLY what is being said behind closed doors and in private conversations here in Hollywood. 

NATALIE PORTMAN

Last night wasn't just all about the women, it was also about diminishing the work of men. Natalie Portman has gotten a ton of praise for her actions last night when she was introducing the Best Director category. As Portman announced the nominees she snidely said "here are the five, all male nominees". After she said it the camera cut to eventual winner Guillermo del Toro with an anguished and hurt look upon his face. Portman's holier than thou, condescending girl-speak was an empty and frankly, incredibly rude and graceless gesture. How would Ms. Portman feel if someone took a shit on an award she was about to win? Probably not so great. 

Think of it this way...How would Ms. Portman react if someone said, "here are the all-Jewish nominees" at some category of the Oscars? She probably wouldn't appreciate it very much considering her pride in her Jewish heritage….and she'd be right. So why is it okay to single out men who have been nominated but not any other group, no matter how disproportionate you perceive their nominations to be? 

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The question that should be posed to Ms. Portman is two-fold…first...what women should have been nominated? I have heard people say Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. My retort to that is that Lady Bird is an acquired taste, one which I have not acquired, but to claim that Gerwig's direction is noteworthy reveals a truly staggering ignorance of the art of filmmaking. Some have said Dee Rees, the director of Mudbound, should have been nominated. I have not seen Mudbound, which is indicative of the logistical problem with the film and maybe why she was not nominated. Mudbound is a Netflix film and is streaming on the service. Hollywood still has not figured out what to do with Netflix films and whether to take them seriously as cinema or not. Mudbound may very well be great, but so was Beasts of No Nation, a superb Netflix film directed by Cary Fukinaja a few years ago, and he wasn't nominated either. I have heard some people say that Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) or Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit) should have been nominated. Anyone who says this is a thoroughly ignorant and unserious person. Wonder Woman was a decent movie, but it wasn't even the best superhero film this year and it certainly isn't awards worthy. Detroit is, thanks to Bigelow's abysmal and amateurish direction, not only an awful film but one of the worst films I have seen in decades. 

The second part of the question Ms. Portman should answer is this…who among the nominees for Best Director should not have been nominated? Should Del Toro be snubbed in favor of a female director? Martin McDonagh? How about Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott or Steven Spielberg? If Ms. Portman has an opinion…she should "grow a pair of balls" and say who should and should not be nominated instead of acting like a petulant little girl holding her breath and stomping her foot until she gets what she thinks she deserves. 

I'll put my money where my mouth is, or in keeping with the previous metaphor, I'll "whip my gigantic balls out" and tell you who should be nominated….Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread and Matt Reeves for War for the Planet of the Apes. Who shouldn't be nominated…Martin McDonagh and Steven Spielberg. Your move, Ms. Portman.

GARY OLDMAN

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Gary Oldman won Best Actor for his work as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour and gave what I thought to be the best, most composed and intelligent speech of the night. Sadly, I have seen articles pop up today proclaiming Oldman of being "this year's Casey Affleck". If you remember Casey Affleck won the Oscar last year and there was a bit of an uproar because he had been alleged to have harassed two women working on a film with him years before. Affleck and the women settled the lawsuit. 

Oldman was alleged to have struck his wife during a domestic dispute a few years back and people are saying he shouldn't have been awarded because of it. The fact that the incident was investigated and deemed to be either untrue or inaccurate carries no weight with the #MeToo mob who are incapable of grasping nuance in any shape or form. It will be interesting to see if this supposed skeleton in Oldman's closet is used to keep him from winning a much deserved Oscar. 

It would be really amazing if artistic awards could actually just be given on nothing but merit as opposed to having the right victim identity or being given the seal of approval of mindless mobs like #MeToo or #OscarsSoWhite.

OPRAH!!

The biggest news of the night came from Oprah who gave a rousing, campaign-esque speech that has all of Hollywood buzzing with the thought of her running for president in 2020. Oprah is enough like Trump for her electoral victory to be a distinct possibility if not likelihood, and just different enough from Trump to be embraced by all liberals and even independents. 

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Oprah and Trump are both billionaires, both were "tv stars" and both have no experience in politics. Unlike the silver spooned Trump, Oprah is a self made woman who built her considerable empire from less than nothing. Also unlike Trump, Oprah is a likable, intelligent and inquisitive person that is adored by the mainstream media. Oprah's status as a new age female Pope, her enormous entrepreneurial success and her ease and prowess at oratory and television would make her a formidable opponent for anyone, but especially for Trump, and especially after he has had four years to show what a charlatan he truly is. 

All of that said, I think the fact that there are large swaths of America who either love Trump or who would love Oprah to run against him, is a sign that this country is in a deep state of corrosive ignorance, malignant decadence and imperial rot that is indicative of a nation perilously close to collapse, self-immolation or both. 

Oprah certainly has the potential to be a tremendous president, but none of that will matter as her election in the shadow of Trump's presidency would only reveal an empire hurtling towards its own self-destruction. Oprah is amazing, just ask her or her sycophants and they'll tell you she can do anything, but I guarantee what she won't be able to do is to save us from ourselves. 

THE FEVER BREAKING?

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One final pseudo-Golden Globes related note and that is that this morning there was an op-ed in the LA Times from Meghan Daum titled "Had Enough of the Visceral Response to the Trump Era? Try a Little Nuance Instead." Ms. Daum's piece is well worth reading. I probably enjoyed it so much  because I have been writing the same ideas for well over a year, since before Trump even won the election. 

Ms. Daum's piece, in combination with Daphne Merkin's New York Times article the other day, are hopefully indicative of a fever breaking. I was not infected by the emotionalist fever and so was able to keep my head about me while those around me lost theirs. To Ms. Daum and Ms. Merkin I say, welcome to the party…better late than never.

©2017

Song to Song : A Review

****THIS IS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME VERY MINOR SPOILERS (Discussion of themes and plot structure)!!!! THIS IS TECHNICALLY NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT (with caveats).  If you are a fan of director Terrence Malick, you will enjoy this film a great deal. If your tastes are less "experimental" and more conventional, you will absolutely hate this movie, so skip it.

Song to Song, written and directed by Terrence Malick, with cinematography by three time Academy Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki, is a meditation on love, shame, sex, mercy and forgiveness set in the music scene of Austin, Texas. The film stars Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman.

For some reason, every time I go see a Malick film in the theaters, I run into some issue with my fellow moviegoers. This time around I had two white-haired biddies come into the theatre as the previews rolled and they proceeded to talk very loudly during them. Then when the film started, one of the old Crones said very loudly, "it's hot in here!!".

I turned and said to them, in as gentle a voice as possible, "excuse me ladies, would you mind not talking, that would be awesome." They said, "ok", but then proceeded to talk throughout the entire film anyway. I kept getting distracted by these two nasty hags and daydreamed of stomping their empty skulls to dust with my steel toed boots every time they felt the need to say how much they hated the film as it was playing. 

I never killed them, or even kicked them, as much as I wanted to, mostly because I assumed one or both of them were packing heat…just a hunch...but because of this irritating distraction it was difficult for me to get into the proper Malick head space to watch the film. The first third of the movie was definitely a struggle, but against all odds, Song to Song was able to win me over, and in the final two thirds was able to transport me into the mind and spirit of its genius director, no small feat with the Greek chorus of dipshits persistently chiming in behind me. 

Enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick's work can be an acquired taste, I readily acknowledge this fact. His recent string of films, Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and this year's Song to Song, are often times describes as "experimental" films. I label them "contemplative cinema" because they are not meant to be watched like you watch a "regular" movie with a linear narrative, but is meant to be enjoyed as more of a meditative storytelling experience.

Malick speaks in a very distinct language, and if you do not understand that language, his films will not only be confusing, but will be downright frustrating and irritating. It would be like watching a foreign film without the subtitles and with sunglasses on. Hence you get people like the two morons behind me who were so out of their depth watching Song to Song they felt the need to assume everyone was equally as ill-equipped to understand what they were watching. Those old whores (again this is just a hunch, I have no definitive proof that they have or had sex for money) didn't understand Malick's language, hell, they probably thought they were going to see the animated musical Sing.

The thing to understand before going to see a Malick film is that Malick makes films that speak in a veiled, but distinctly religious and cinematic language. The trouble with this is that the people who are artistically cultured enough to understand the cinematic language, will most likely be members of the Church of the Libertine and not understand Malick's Gnostic Catholic religious language, and those with the religious understanding will not be cinematically sophisticated enough to understand the structure, style and visuals of the film. It is a dilemma, no doubt, but at this point, I do not care, as I am apparently one of a very, very tiny minority of people (and critics) for whom Malick's film's deeply resonate. I don't care how, or why that is, just that it is. I consider myself blessed because of it. If you do not "get" Malick's work, that is on you, and I beg you to keep your ignorance to yourself, because next time I might not be so reticent and go full on Hulk and smash those who ruin my sacred experience in the local art house. 

As for the film itself, cinematographer Lubezki once again does a masterful job with his floating and dancing camera that creates an otherworldly aura about the entire project. Malick's films, (and Lubezki's), are gorgeous to look at, but they also tell the deeper story of the film with visuals alone, and so it is with Song to Song. Lubezki consistently moves his camera from left to right, sometimes to observe a conversation, other times to expand the make up of the shot. The left to right camera movement is meant to symbolize the alchemical journey the lead character makes on the "left hand path" away from her center.

Regardless of what Lubezki is shooting in Song to Song, each fluid shot offers a brief glimpse at a visual masterpiece. It is like spinning your way through an art museum, the view is staggeringly beautiful, but ephemeral, quickly replaced by a new work of wonder to amaze you.

The themes that Malick examines in Song to Song are similar to the ones he explored in his Dante-esque masterpiece Knight of Cups. This time though, the main, but not exclusive, protagonist is a woman, Rooney Mara's Faye, a struggling musician in Austin, as opposed to the man at the center of Knight of Cups, played by Christian Bale, who was navigating the perils of Hollywood.

Rooney Mara does exquisitely wondrous work as Malick's muse Faye. Mara is able to fill the camera, and her scenes with a painfully yearning melancholy that is mesmerizing to watch. She seems wonderfully comfortable with her discomfort in front of Malick's camera, and that translates remarkably well to the myth at the heart of the film. Mara's face is striking, and she is able to draw the viewer in towards her even while she withdraws into her cocoon of self doubt and spiritual turmoil.

Ryan Gosling plays BV, a song writer and Faye's love interest, while Michael Fassbender is music producer Cook and Natalie Portman plays Cook's girlfriend Rhonda. They all do top-notch, and at times spectacular work in Song to Song. BV's Christ-like gentle nature and kind heart are balanced by Cook's Mephistophelean and insatiable hunger, just like Faye's melancholic yearning is balanced by Rhonda's crushing desperation. 

Cate Blanchett also has a small role but proves once again what a extraordinary actress she truly is. Blanchett is a wonder to behold in her brief screen time. She can tell an entire story with just the smallest of gestures with her hands, watch her tap the glass!! I would encourage any and all actors to closely watch Ms. Blanchett's hands in both Song to Song and in Knight of Cups to see a masterclass in subtly powerful acting.

As with many of Malick's films, most notably Knight of Cups, the theme of forgetting one's true self runs throughout. Faye has forgotten her true nature, her connection to God and her goodness. Like a Prodigal daughter she must leave home, and the Divine, and take the "left hand path" of struggle in order to return to her center out of choice, not chance. Unlike most films, Song to Song is structured as a circle, not a straight line. When Faye returns to where she began, it all seems so new that it is only vaguely familiar. The starting point is the same, but Faye is different, she sees it with new eyes.

The haunting sense of the familiar, and of a lost connection to the true self are common themes that Malick explores in many of his more recent films. Malick films are like dreams and should be watched and understood through that prism. Everything means something, but not what it appears to mean on the surface. And, as in all Malick movies, and as it is in dreams, time in Song to Song is at best fluid, and at most, non-existent.

As Faye tries to return to the Eden she left behind, she is seduced by the temptations of the "left hand path" of this world, success, fame, wealth, and power. But this is a fallen world, and Cook, like the fallen angel Satan, is the king of it. To follow the path of Cook is to embrace the momentary over the eternal, the profane over the divine. While Cook's world is deliciously tantalizing, it is most assuredly the way of spiritual death. On some level Faye knows this, but the allure of that sweet death can be both intoxicating and spellbinding. 

The message at the heart of Song to Song is one that should resonate with spiritual seekers of all kinds, that in order to return to our true selves and higher nature, we must evolve beyond our animal drives and instincts, and simplify our lives and embrace a true and honest heart inspired love (as opposed to genital inspired). Of course, that is much easier said than done, and even when one makes that choice, their more base desires will still call out to them like the Sirens singing ships into their doom on the pointy rocks of shore, but as Song to Song shows us, evolution is a process, one that is cyclical and circular. We return Home from our travels and travails, born anew, but will be called once again to the "left hand path" of our lesser urges and will have to make the journey all over again, just with new eyes.

When BV washes Faye, her sins are cleansed, her heart and soul clear, and they are both born again into a new, and more simple life. Cook will still be in Austin hunting for souls, damaged ones or ones he seeks to damage, but the key for Faye and BV is to return to the simplicity of Eden. Their journey is a return to the earth, a return to love, a return to their true and higher selves. 

Mercy and the freedom of forgiveness are the gifts Faye receives and they propel her to evolve beyond her limiting animal nature, and to sacrifice her wants for the higher purpose of her true self and love. I know this all sounds very new-agey, but it isn't, it is in many ways deeply traditionalist, just without the female subservience. The answer for Faye and BV, is a traditionalist return to a grounding on the earth, not the new age promise of life among the stars. And this may be why Malick's film has caused such a negative stir among cinephiles. The more sophisticated of viewers will probably be members of the Church of the Libertine, and therefore will not see Faye's dalliances with debauchery or moral and ethical compromises as problematic, they would see them as a form of freedom. But the reality is that freedom for Faye, and for many of us, is an illusion, and comes with a steep price, namely your soul. 

That message is anathema to American culture, one that celebrates the individual’s wants and demands instant gratification of any and all desires. As Song to Song tells us, sex is a gift, and to abuse it for any reason is a sin against oneself and the divine. That is a message that most members of the Church of the Libertine will reject out of hand, which may explain why critics are so hostile to Song to Song, as they are unconsciously repulsed by the films moral, ethical and spiritual compass.

Song to Song is a piece of art to be experienced, not a puzzle to be solved. The film, like all of Malick's recent work, not only works visually and acoustically, but viscerally. Song to Song, if you can lose yourself in it, washes over you like the cool waters of a cinematic baptism, inviting the viewer to witness the struggle and the possibility of faith and a true and transcendent love. 

If you are a lover of more mainstream fare, Song to Song is most definitely not for you…not at all. If you love Malick films, I believe you will love Song to Song. If you are somewhere in the middle, I would assume that Song to Song would be a bridge too far for you. This type of cinema, whether you call it "experimental" or "cinematic contemplation", is very challenging, and if you aren't up for the challenge, then you should stick to your comfort zone. But if you do make the ambitious trek to see Song to Song, then please just give yourself over to it. And if you hate it, keep it to yourself. Let's make a deal, I won't ruin the Fast and Furious movies for you, and you don't ruin Malick movies for me? Ok? Great!! See you at the concession stand!!

©2017

 

Jackie : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 07 Seconds

My Rating : 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

My Recommendation : See It in the theatre. If you are a cinephile I think you'll enjoy the film and Portman's performance. If you are looking for a standard bio-pic, you can wait to see it on Netflix or Cable.

Jackie, directed by Pablo Larrain and written by Noah Oppenheim, is the story of first lady Jackie Kennedy during her short time in the White House and shortly thereafter. Natalie Portman stars as Jackie, with supporting turns from Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard. John Hurt and Greta Gerwig.

Prior to seeing Jackie, I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who also happens to be a client and is one of the great actresses of our time. When I asked my friend what she thought of Jackie she reported that she was bored by it and that Natalie Portman's work was more akin to an impersonation than an acting performance. My friend and I have never disagreed on anything, ever (she won't permit it!!), so when I sat down to watch Jackie with my friend's sweet voice and less-than stellar critique rattling around in my head, I definitely had some pretty low expectations. After watching the film, I am happy to report that I have a much more positive view of Jackie than my very famous friend, sadly though, the consequences of my disagreeing with her will no doubt leave me banished from her elite and glorious company and be forced to rub elbows with the hoi polloi for all eternity. 

Where my friend saw impersonation, I saw a layered, textured and intimate performance of great skill and craft. Jackie Kennedy was such an iconic figure that it is very difficult to bring her to life in a complex and multi-dimensional way, but Natalie Portman succeeds in doing just that. The key to Portman's performance is that she is able to find an authentic Jackie beneath the veneer of Mrs. Kennedy's public persona. Jackie, like most public figures, was an actress herself, managing the rare glimpses she would give the people and managing their perceptions of her. Portman masterfully navigates the minefield of playing Jackie Kennedy by giving her a variety of public masks to wear, not just the usual two masks of public and private. Portman's Jackie is wearing one mask meeting crowds at Love Field, and a different mask making her demands to LBJ's Special Assistant Jack Valenti and another mask entirely when searching for Jack's eventual grave site. There are even multiple privacy masks Jackie wears, like when she is "alone" in the White House but with a stone-faced secret service agent right behind her, or when she is being interviewed in her "home" by a reporter, or even when she weeps next to her husbands casket. Even when she is having deeply intimate conversations with her kids she is managing perceptions and expectations of her assistant and the nanny.  Jackie is never fully at home, and never without some sort of mask, but Portman creates an inner life to Jackie that is palpable behind her stoic yet soft veneer. 

One of the great insights of the film is how it reveals to the audience the great lengths that Jackie went to cultivating the Camelot image of her husbands administration and her family in the immediate aftermath of the assassination. Jackie is continually aware that all eyes are on her and she uses that attention to craft and maintain a legacy for her dead husband in the history books, and to make a future for herself and her children. 

There are some parts of Jackie that I felt did not work all that well. I felt that Billy Crudup's character, the writer Theodore H. White, was somewhat illogical and unbelievable, as were the discussions between he and Jackie. I felt Peter Saarsgaard's Bobby Kennedy was a weak portrayal as well. Bobby Kennedy is one of the more intriguing people in the JFK drama, but here he is a bit of a dullard and afterthought. 

A bright spot in supporting performances is John Hurt as a Catholic priest. The scenes with Hurt are fascinating to watch and pulsate with an existential energy, as they are the heart and philosophical soul of the film and of Jackie herself. Hurt is an often overlooked actor of notable brilliance, and his work in Jackie was a pleasant surprise as I had no idea he was in the film.

Director Pablo Larrain does a deft and masterful job at creating a dramatic style and visual texture in Jackie. Larrain sets a slow, maybe too slow for some, but steady pace that gives room for Portman's Jackie to be more than an historical recreation, he allows her to be an authentic human being in a setting that begs for inauthenticity. Larrain has a cinematic confidence that serves him well in Jackie. Jackie could have been a run of the mill, paint by numbers bio-pic, but Larrain, along with cinematographer Stephane Fontain, create, an at times, exquisite and challenging piece of art. As I said earlier, the film is not perfect and Larrain fails on occasion, but his failures always occur when he is closer to convention rather than challenging it. 

One other point of note, is that I am someone who has an intense interest in all things Kennedy in general and in the assassination in particular. You would think my Kennedy fascination would facilitate my loving any film about them, but the opposite is actually true. I tend to really hate films about the Kennedy's because they ring so hollow and phony. I am sure my late Kennedy-hating father would reply that Kennedy films are so hollow and phony because the Kennedy's are hollow and phony…touché sir, but obviously I disagree. What usually maims Kennedy films are the performances, which as my famous, soon-to-be former friend suggested, usually are little more than bad impersonations. Combine that with Kennedy film's general inability to challenge conventional structure and religious adherence to propping up the Camelot myth, and you get some stale cinema. With Jackie, director Larrain is blessed with a genuinely terrific performance from Natalie Portman, so the first issue is overcome. To Larrain's credit, he avoids the other two traps by telling a messy, behind-the-scenes story of the Kennedy myth, revealing how it was created and maintained in the days following Jack's murder, and how ugly a process that is and the toll it took on Jackie. For these reasons, Jackie is the best and most honest Kennedy film to ever come along. 

As for Jackie, in spite of, or maybe because of, my low expectations, I enjoyed the film and thought it was very well done. Natalie Portman is very deserving of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for her complex and extremely well crafted performance as America's most iconic First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. While Jackie may not be for everybody, especially those interested in a more straight forward bio-pic, I recommend cinephiles spend the time and energy to go see it in the theatre. Filmmakers, actors and artists of good faith may disagree on the merit and value of Jackie, just like my friend and I, but I found Jackie to be a rare glimpse into how history is made, and the price of managing and maintaining a legacy. If nothing else, Jackie will be a pleasant reminder of when America had a dashing young President and a graceful First Lady, and the world was our oyster, a stark contrast to our current time, where we have a bloated, orange buffoon as President, and the world feels like a giant turd sandwich from which we all have to take a bite. Jackie is a bittersweet reminder that the dream of Camelot is long dead, and the hope of America buried with it, and in its place Mordor is alive and well and thriving on the Potomac.

 

©2017