Pop Goes Natalie (Film Thoughts: Vox Lux)

large_vox-lux-posterI described ‘Vox Lux’ to someoone as one of those movies that is so bad it’s good. Well, I don’t really know if people will agree with me on that, as I see that it is getting some love from critics. This is a film that baffled me, left me scratching my head, and Natalie Performance’s was definitely bold and big and aggressive. I didn’t quite like it, but I did understand it, if that makes any sense. I bet that this will be one of those movies that will connect with a lot of people and will garner a huge cult following. I guess to put it simply: I just did not like it.

I liked small parts of it. The first half, for example, was more interesting for me. Raffey Cassidy stars as a teenage Celeste, who becomes an overnight pop sensation from a song her sister composed after they both survived a school shooting. They quickly get caught up with the pop music scene, aided by their manager, played by Jude Law. When Hatalie Portman takes over Celeste aged 31, Brady Corbett’s film veered more towards self-indulgence, I thought, and the storytelling stopped, and we get a more character study of what Celeste has become, what the business has done to her. At that point, I got exasperated with the film, and it totally lost me. So I gave it a chance, but sometimes, you just don’t gel with a film.

Without A Song (Movie Thoughts: Song To Song)

song2songposterIt would be easy to dismiss ‘Song To Song,’ Terrence Malick’s latest movie. It can try your patience. Malick’s fragmented style of storytelling  – there’s no structure, scenes begin and end haphazardly, nature scenes show up out of the blue – is admittedly a tough pill to swallow. But there has to be genius behind the madness, and I do get it – perhaps he is using the film as a metaphor to creating art through songs. As Stephen Sondheim says “Art isn’t easy.’

Or maybe it’s just plain crazy. This is probably the kind of film where the actors don’t know what film would come out of their performances. The A List Cast – Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchette, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman – seem there just to support Rooney Mara, who is for the most part front and center in this film. The trouble is that Mara doesn’t and never had the natural instincts for characterization. She seems a blank slate here, and perhaps that’s the point – everyone else is colorful and she is just plain white. Though it appears that Gosling brought his La La Land character here. Portman is luminous, though, and brings a certain heartache to her small role as a teacher who gets involved with Fassbander.

The story is just a musical chairs of pairings but I liked the fact that it went forward without you sometimes realizing how it does. Perhaps that is where the brilliance of Malick lies – in the subtlety, in the unspoken. There’s little dialogue here, as most is said through character’s voice-overs. But scenes do play out redundantly – you blink and sometimes wonder if it’s the same scene over and over again. And since the movie is set around various music festivals in Austin, you kind of wonder why there is very little actual music here (Patti Smith is glorious in her one number)

At my matinee, two women hurriedly left as soon as the credits came up – I bet they saw Goslng’s name and expected a retread of La La – and I stayed and stewed over what I had just seen. This is the kind of movie that has layers. I cannot wait to see it again – probably on disc or streaming – and peel some more.

A Complicated Woman (Movie Thoughts: Jackie)

jackieHalfway through ‘Jackie,’ I couldn’t help but already think that Natalie Portman is giving the performance of the year. I always thought Portman a very mannered actress, and those mannerisms worked in favor here. because Jackie, even in her own words here, has difficulty discerning what is real, and what is part of her manufactured “image” and the learned cautiousness in Portman’s performance perfectly captures that. Portman makes this film immensely watchable, even when it isn’t.

Directed by Chilean Director Pablo Larrain,  ‘Jackie’ shows Kennedy mostly during the time of JFK’s assassination, shortly before, and after. While mostly fictionalized, I thought it was very interesting. I would like to believe a lot of what’s shown here is true, as it appears to ring true. I love a lot of the details here from Jackie’s refusal to take off her pink Chanel suit by Johnson is being sworn in as President, to the way she chose the exact spot where the President is to be buried in Arlington. The show queen in me loved the references to Camelot, with her playing Richard Harris’ title track from the cast recording. The perfumista in me loved how they showed her collection of Guerlain perfumes (She wore Vol de Nuit, I find)  In fact, I liek the flashback scenes the best, as it gave me a real glimpse of the Kennedys when they were at the White House – even their unhappy marriage is referenced here.

The film is framed by the interview she gave to the Theodore White interview she gave to Life Magazine shortly after his death, (The reporter is played by Billy Crudup) and those were the parts I liked the least – the scenes seemed stilted and stopped the flow of the movie. But otherwise, I found the film more than fine, as it gave me a peek into the soul of a woman I was a little apathetic about before. I know a lot of people idolized her, but I didn’t feel anything about her either way, mostly because she was mostly not on my radar. That changed after seeing this movie. Is she the manipulator as some have said, or just a complicated woman? This film wisely doesn’t take sides, and lets the audience decide.