Film Review: VOX LUX (USA 2018) ***1/2

Vox Lux Poster
Trailer

An unusual set of circumstances brings unexpected success to a pop star.

Director:

Brady Corbet

Writer:

Brady Corbet

VOX LUX is a depressing life story of a pop artist that is credible and realistic by writer/director Brady Corbet aided by the spirited performance of Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman and by Jude Law who plays her nasty and suspicious manager. 

As in her Oscar winning BLACK SWAN where she plays an artist in the form of a ballet dancer, Portman now plays pop singer/dancer who has risen to fame despite seismic, violent circumstances.  Still she spirals downwards but there is a silver lining in every cloud.

The film begins in 1999 with teenage sisters Celeste Montgomery (Raffey Cassidy, last seen  in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) and Eleanor “Ellie” Montgomery (Stacy Martin), surviving a seismic and violent tragedy.  The tragedy unfolds like a shock, and therefore will not be revealed in this review to prevent a full movie experience.  Director Corbet  clearly has the intention of this effect for his audience.  The sisters compose and perform a song about their experience, making something lovely and cathartic out of catastrophe.  This launches their  singing careers.  The sisters draw the attention of a passionate manager with no-name (Jude Law) and are rapidly catapulted into fame and fortune, with Celeste as the star and Ellie the creative anchor.  By the film’s second half, the film shifts to a 2017 setting. The now 31-year-old Celeste (Natalie Portman) is mother to a teenage daughter of her own (again played by Raffey Cassidy) and struggling to navigate a career fraught with scandals when another act of terrifying violence (again not revealed) demands her attention.

VOX LUX is the name of one of Celeste’s album.  The life of Celeste follows the route of many a singer/songwriter (like Amy Winehouse) whose documentaries have already been seen by many.  The story of a star’s downfall (as in the recent A STAR IS BORN) is a depressing all too familiar one that many will avoid, especially during the festive season.  But director Corbet inserts an lively entertaining dance number at the climax for the purpose of lifting spirits.  It works!

The film is narrated by Willem Dafoe (immediately recognizable) who has been doing a lot of narrating recently since DO DONKEYS ACT?  The voiceover is supposed to put the story into perspective and keep it there as opinions can change.  Like DO DONKEYS ACT? Defoe put-on touch of sarcasm into the proceedings.

Despite the sombre nature of the film’s material there are a few bright moments.  One is the message that has an aside.  During Celeste’s down period, she says to her audience: “This girl will never go down!”   Director Corbet also inserts a very lively dance sequence during the film’s climax which showcases Portman’ versatility as an artist.  Yes, this girl can sing and dance.

Because of the shocking incidents affecting Celeste’s life, her ups and downs and the parallel rise of her daughter’s singing career, VOX LUX feels a bit disjointed.  But director Corbet knows what he is doing and brings his film to a satisfying conclusion at the end.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxdVqr4hmZU

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Film Review: ANNIHILATION (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Annihilation Poster
Trailer

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Director:

Alex Garland

Writers:

Alex Garland (written for the screen by), Jeff VanderMeer (based on the novel by)

 

Alex Garland is known for his sci-fi scripts that have gone on to make memorable films like THE BEACH, 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, my favourite NEVER LET ME GO and EX MACHINA which he also directed.  The latter brought him prominence and the chance to make his first big budget $55 million Hollywood movie.  But the film was shelved 2 years ago after production was completed when Paramount was unsure what to do with the film after test audiences found it too ‘intellectual’.

By intellectual is meant ‘hard to follow’ and ‘difficult to make sense’.  Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s award-winning novel, (supposedly the first of a trilogy) the film is filled with stunning visuals, scientific propositions and biological concepts of human and alien integration.  The fact that plants can transform to another different type means that the idea of DNA integration is not that far-fetched.

The story can be simplified in a few lines.  A biologist’s husband (Oscar Isaac) disappears while on a mission.  He reappears suddenly out of the blue and begins going into convulsions as if possessed by aliens.  Lena (Natalie Portman) puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she is expecting.  The expedition team is made up of herself,  the biologist, a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh),  an anthropologist, a surveyor and a linguist (Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson). 

Garland directs his film as a horror sci-fi.  At times, ANNIHILATION plays like a cross between ARRIVAL and ALIEN.  The horror scenes are particularly gory, Garland going all out to scare his audience.  The best segment in the film is the one where a member of the previous crew gets his stomach cut open with a short, sharp knife to reveal his insides being occupied by some alien parasite.  The scene ends up with a joke that had the entire audience laughing out loud in a second right after being grossed out to death.  I cannot recall what was the joke but the change in mood shows Garland’s skill at playing with the audience’s emotions.

ANNIHILATION also marks a solid female film with a female heroine and a full female team saving the world.

It s true that the film becomes intellectual (there is even a debate on self-destruction vs. suicide) especially when the audience is expected to interpret the goings-on and what is happening with regards to the transformation of the expedition team.  It is clear that only Janet survives on the inset (as she confesses to her interrogator (Benedict Wong) that the rest of her team are no more.  Still, ANNIHILATION is suspenseful, scary and tense despite its relatively slow pacing.  An additional bonus is the trippy visuals (the film perhaps being the perfect one to watch while on a brownie) and gorgeous photography, courtesy of D.P. Rob Hardy.

ANNIHILATION opens in Canada and the U.S. and internationally on Netflix after a few weeks.  But this is a film that should be seen on the big screen but being on Netflix, would reach a larger audience, as Garland admitted.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OP78l9oF0

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Film Review: SONG TO SONG (USA 2017)

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

song_to_songDirector: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Terrence Malick’s films have been accessible to some and highly inaccessible to others. The best example is Malick’s TREE OF LIFE that the Toronto Film Critics association awarded Best Film of the year that most of the public hated. Malick’s last film was his indulgent ode to the Universe which he made though the man is neither a scientist of physicist. That was a complete mess.

His latest indulgent film SONG TO SONG begins at a concert of some sort where the crowd is wild and violent. It is an energetic scene that provides some promise of an exciting film that never comes to fruition. As the film unfolds, it is revealed that SONG TO SONG is supposedly a film about life that is led from song to song or from kiss to kiss.

SONG TO SONG is a love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, with two entangled couples — struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares, Rhonda (Natalie Portman) — chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal. The betrayal involves Faye who hides her affair with Cook from BV. BV has a fling with Amanda (Cate Blanchett) while Faye also experiments with same sex with Rhonda. The film intercuts frequently among the couples, without any meaning or direction.
The film contains a lot of voiceover, particularly from Rooney Mara at the beginning of the film.

SONG TO SONG is stunningly shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki with credit also going to Malick. The best spectacular scenes are the ones with the rooftops, the crystal clear waters, the beaches including interior scenes like the gorgeous decorated and furnished apartments.

It is difficult to judge performances when a film has no narrative or direction. But Malick, has assembled, besides the main stars mentioned above, other famous names in his cast like Val Kilmer, Iggy Pop, Tom Sturridge, Holly Hunter and Lykke Li.

The film’s first cut was 8 hours and shortened to two hours with huge snips that included singer Patti Smith totally removed from the film. Even Fassbender thought he would have been totally cut out of the film leaving only his voiceover.

In SONG TO SONG, Malick delves into romantic relationships in an experimental type film where narrative is thrown into the wind. The film is often all over the place. incoherent and senseless.

The critical response to the film has been pretty bad so far with only a few praises. It currently stands, at the point of writing, at just the 50% mark on meteoritic and rotten tomatoes. SONG TO SONG is also one of the lowest rated Malick films.

As in almost every Terrence Malick film, SONG TO SONG is undeniably, a visual treat. But that is all that can be said about the film. It also runs too long at 129 minutes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8Yo2e8AzgA
 

_________

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Film Review: JACKIE (USA/Chile/France 2016)

jackie_movie_posterDirector: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

Review by Gilbert Seah

Chilean director Pablo Larrain has made a name for himself with critical hit films like NO and TONY MANERO. But he is an odd choice for the English speaking film biography of the true American icon JACKIE, based on the life of Jackie Kennedy just after her husband, John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

The story follows the events immediately following the assassination. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is being interviewed by a reporter, Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life Magazine. The film plunges the audience into the devastation using a series of finely crafted flashbacks that cover the fateful day in Dallas, Jackie’s return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and her time spent accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery.

The film is a slow count of what happens. It is the coping of a violent death of a loved one. The film is very American despite being directed by a non-American. The sequences complete a moving portrait of a grieving woman — a widow and mother struggling with overwhelming tragedy and attention. Yet the core of the film is formed by quiet, profoundly intimate moments: Jackie’s conversations with her children, her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard, also at the Festival in The Magnificent Seven), one of her aides (Greta Gerwig), journalist White (Billy Crudup), and a Catholic priest (John Hurt). Larrain loves the close-ups of Jackie. The scenes between Jackie and the priest are done in a flashback within a flashback.

Portman does a fine job as Jackie Kennedy. She often looks aloof though she says that she is not and concerned about the children and the funeral procession. I don’t recall how the real Jackie spoke, but Portman always speaks with her mouth wide open, which I gather is the way the real Kennedy spoke.

For a non-American, the tasks offered to the former First Lady of restoring the artefacts of the White House may seem trivial. Jackie often moves around the different rooms drowning vodka or popping one of her colourful pills, always with a cigarette in one hand. She might not seem convincing when she says she cares so much for the children, but that is the way she was in real life during those times. Non-Americans might either find everything totally boring for incidents portrayed that do not concern them or be totally in awe of anyone being so involved in Americana.

One of the tasks Jackie was in charge of was looking after the White House. In the film’s best segment, an inspired one no doubt, Jackie is seen moving about the house, cigarette in one hand, popping pols, pouring drinks or arranging letters to the tune and lyrics of the song CAMELOT. Camelot, the perfect place to be is Jackie’s White House.

JACKIE emerges as a rare film about America as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. It is a queer piece which alternates between looking really artificial and surreal, but that might be Larrain’s intention.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZTXv5NpgaI

 

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (Israel/US 2015) Directed by Natalie Portman

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

a_tale_of_love_and_darkness.jpgA TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (Israel/US 2015) ***
Directed by Natalie Portman

Starring: Natalie Portman, Shira Haas, Amir Tessler

Review by Gilbert Seah

A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS was screened at last year’s TIFF after premiering at Cannes. When a film that marks a directorial debut by an actor is screened at TIFF, the normal reaction is to avoid. But this film by actress Natalie Portman (Oscar Winner for BLACK SWAN) is truly a labour of love. Whether successful or not, it is one that has Portman’s heart and soul put into its making. This should be reason alone to view the film.

Portman reported took 8 years to write the script after obtaining the rights to the book – an autobiography by Amos Oz. She also not only learned Hebrew but to speak it without an American accent. Portman herself was born in Israel. The film is shot in Hebrew.

The book and Portman’s film are told from the point of view of Amos Oz, the son of the mother Portman portrays, as he grows from adolescence to youth. The film tells the story of his youth, set against the backdrop of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. A major influence of Amos’ upbringing is his mother. But in certain scenes, like the one where the mother imagines her bookish husband as a handsome labourer,the film uncomfortably shifts the point of view from the boy to her.

The boy, Amos is closer to the mother than to the father, as observed by the film. The mother is seen to be the more realistic person than her academic husband. Portman paints him as an ugly creature with bucked teeth and spectacles. But she shows the boy, at various points in the film smiling whenever his parents share a loving moment.

Her film is meticulously crafted, perhaps too much so. Her film is beautiful to look at, with a dizzy hazy look but it lacks drama and life. Even the dramatic scene like the swing accident is shot with the confrontation taken away. Portman never makes it clear he purpose of this segment. The audience is expected to figure out this one and many other such segments (like the kicking of the football) on their own.
When a story is told of two monks traveling through India, these scene is materialized with the son and mother in monks’ robes walking through a field of flowers. When the boy smiles while lying on the ground looking at his parents, the image is shown upside down, from the boy’s angle. Portman appears to concentrate more on the film’s look than the way the book’s message is put across to the audience.

Portman’s film though set in the Israel/Palestinian conflict is violence free. The violence is only heard as news on the radio or from conversations that take place. Her film is also a very serious piece, almost devoid of humour. Se does inject the occasional nostalgia as in the rendering of the Charles Trenet Frenc song, “La Mer”.

It is difficult to figure to see the reason for Portman’s obsession for filming Oz’s novel, or why the novel is such a bestseller. Oz’s writing skill is assumed to be inherited from his father. One scene shows Amos’ story telling skills used to prevent himself being beaten up by bullies. But nothing is said on how his writing skills developed except for the stories his mother tells.

The result is a beautifully looking but rather lifeless film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_bC0o9l2vs

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Happy Birthday: Natalie Portman

natalieportman.jpgHappy Birthday actor Natalie Portman

Born: Natalie Hershlag
June 9, 1981 in Jerusalem, Israel

Married to: Benjamin Millepied (4 August 2012 – present) (1 child)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

megan foxTOP 20 NATALIE PORTMAN Movies

videoWATCH – TOP 20 NATALIE PORTMAN VIDEOS

LEON MOVIE POSTERLeon
1994
dir. Luc Besson
Starring
Jean Reno
Gary Oldman
Portman

HeatHeat
1995
dir. by Michael Mann
Starring
Robert DeNiro
Al Pacino

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS
1996
dir. Ted Demme
Stars:
Timothy Hutton
Matt Dillon

EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU
1996
dir. Woody Allen
Stars:
Drew Barrymore
Goldie Hawn

THE PHANTOM MENACEStar Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
1999
dir. George Lucas
Starring
Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor

MOVIE POSTERWHERE THE HEART IT
2000
dir. Matt Williams

Stars:
Natalie Portman
Ashley Judd

ATTACK OF THE CLONESStar Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
2002
dir. George Lucas
Starring
Portman

COLD MOUNTAIN
2003
dir. Anthony Minghella
Stars:
Jude Law
Nicole Kidman

Garden State
2004
dir. Zach Braff
starring
Zach Braff
Portman

CLOSER
2004
dir. Mike Nichols
Stars:
Julia Roberts
Natalie Portman

REVENGE OF THE SITHStar Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
2005
dir. George Lucas

V FOR VENDETTAV for Vendetta
2005
dir. James McTeigue
starring
Natalie Portman
Hugo Weaving

MOVIE POSTERGOYA’S GHOSTS
2006
dir. Milos Foreman
Stars:
Javier Bardem
Natalie Portman

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
2007
Directed by Zack Helm
Starring
Dustin Hoffman
Natalie Portman

THE DARJEELING LIMITEDThe Darjeeling Limited
2007
dir. Wes Anderson
starring
Owen Wilson
Adrien Brody
Jason Schwartzman

The Other Boleyn Girl
2008
Directed by Justin Chadwick
Starring
Portman
Scarlett Johansson
Eric Bana

BROTHERS Movie PosterBrothers
2009
dir. Jim Sheridan
Stars:
Jake Gyllenhaal
Natalie Portman
Tobey Maguire

NEW YORK I LOVE YOU Movie PosterNew York, I Love You
dir. Fatih Akin etc.
Starring
Shia LaBeouf
Natalie Portman

BLACK SWANBlack Swan
2010
dir. Darren Aronofsky
Stars:
Natalie Portman
Mila Kunis

No Strings AttachedNo Strings Attached
2011
dir. Ivan Reitman
Stars:
Natalie Portman
Ashton Kutcher

YOUR HIGHNESSYOUR HIGHNESS
2011
dir. David Gordon Green
Stars:
Danny McBride
Zooey Deschanel

THORTHOR
2011
dir. Kenneth Branagh
Stars:
Chris Hemsworth
Anthony Hopkins

MOVIE POSTERTHE PHANTOM MENACE 3D
2012
dir. George Lucas
Stars: Ewan McGregor
Liam Neeson

MOVIE POSTERTHOR: THE DARK WORLD
2013
dir. Alan Taylor
Stars:
Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman

MOVIE POSTERGOYA’S GHOSTS
2006
dir. Milos Foreman
Stars:
Javier Bardem
Natalie Portman

SEE TOP 100 NATALIE PORTMAN PHOTOS

and Ashton Kutcher

and Audrey Hepburn

and Baby

and Chris Hemsworth

and Dog

and Husband

and Keira Knightley

and Mila Kunis

and Oscar

and Scarlett Johansson

and Timothy Hutton

and Vincent Cassel

as Anne Frank

as Evey

as Jane

as Mathilda

as Nina Sayers

as Novalee

as Queen Amadala

at Harvard

Bald

Ballet

Beach

Bikini

Black and White

Blonde

Bob

Body

Casual

Chanel AD

Crying

Dior AD

Earrings

Ears

Elle

Eyebrows

Eyes

Face

Fashion

Feet

Funny

Glam

Glamour

Golden Globes Dress

Gorgeous

Gown

in Attack of the Clones

in Beautiful Girls

in Black Swan

in Brothers

in Closer

in Cold Mountain

in Domino One

in Everyone Says I Love You

in Free Zone

in Garden State

in Goya’s Ghosts

in Heat

in Hesher

in Mars Attacks!

in Mr. Magoriums Wonder Emporium

in My Blueberry Nights

in No Strings Attached

in Phantom Menace

in Revenge of the Sith

in The Darjeeling Limited

in The Other Boleyn Girl

in The Other Woman

in The Professional

in Thor

in V for Vendetta

in Where the Heart Is

in Your Highness

in Zoolander

Kissing Scene

Legs

Long Hair

Makeup

Mini Dress

Model

Nose

Oscar Dress

Photoshoot

Pink Dress

Pink Wig

Premiere

Red Carpet

Red Dress

Red Lipstick

Rolling Stone

Sex Scene

Short Hair

Shorts

Star Wars Style

Style

Teenager

Vogue

W Magazine

Wallpaper

White Dress