Movie Review: “Jackie”

Starring
Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Director
Pablo Larraín

“Jackie” is a breath of fresh air for a biopic. Unlike other films in the subgenre, this isn’t a series of CliffsNotes or the greatest hits of a former first lady’s life, but rather an entirely subjective, visceral, upsetting and sometimes beautiful experience. Director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim have crafted a dazzling 99-minute drama.

For the most part, Oppenheim’s script focuses on Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) following the assassination of her husband and President of the United States, John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), which we experience via a framing device where Jackie tells her side of the story to a journalist (Billy Crudup) about what occurred and what she was feeling at the time. She’s surrounded by people throughout most of the movie – brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), Social Secretary and close friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), a priest (John Hurt) and Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant), to name a few important figures – but she’s portrayed as deeply alone and hurting, and Larraín and Portman make that pain tangible. She has to go from trying to pick up her husband’s brain, to witnessing Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) be sworn into office, to then trying to arrange a funeral that’ll help maintain her husband’s legacy.

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Movie Review: “Moana”

Starring
Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger
Director
Ron Clements & Don Hall

By all rights, Disney has been kicking sister company Pixar’s butt on the animated film front for the last five or six years. This is due to two unrelated events: Former Pixar chief and current Disney chief John Lasseter brought The Process with him from Pixar, where instead of putting one or two people in charge of the story, a group of writers will work on the story until they have ironed out any potential kinks. At the same time, Pixar hit a point in their release schedule where they were working almost exclusively on sequels (with only one of the non-sequels, 2015’s “Inside Out,” good enough to stand alongside Pixar’s best work). This left Pixar vulnerable, and while Pixar was by no means out, they were down, and Disney seized the opportunity. In the last four years, Disney and Pixar have each won two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, though if you ask us, “Wreck-It Ralph” was robbed at arrow point by “Brave” in 2012, and the real tally should be 3-1 in Disney’s favor.

This brings us to “Moana,” coming out in a year where Disney and its many subdivisions have completely conquered the box office. (They own the top four spots on the worldwide box office rankings, with the recently released “Doctor Strange” at #9 and climbing, and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” still waiting in the wings.) One wonders if releasing three animated films in one year proved to be a strain on the brain trust, because The Process let “Moana” down. It’s fun, and it’s beautifully rendered, but it is a far cry from “Zootopia” in terms of story, a farther cry from “Frozen” in terms of musical numbers, and it pales in comparison to both in terms of emotional weight.

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Movie Review: “Allied”

Starring
Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Jared Harris
Director
Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis typically makes big pieces of popcorn entertainment. Admittedly, the “Back to the Future” and “Forrest Gump” director’s most recent films have been more distancing than enthralling, but his latest, the World War II romance “Allied,” is one of his more human and tangible movies yet. It’s also his most purely enjoyable film since “Cast Away.”

Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight open the story with Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting down into the French Moroccan desert. It’s quite an image – one that relies on obvious visual effects – but it grabs the viewer’s attention with silence and curiosity, dropping them into the story along with Max. The agent is then picked up by an unnamed man and told that he must meet his wife, fellow special operative and French Resistance spy Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), for dinner. Max and Marianne’s mission is simple: play house convincingly enough for the Germans in Casablanca, make some important contacts, and get into the right room to kill a high-ranking German ambassador. Their mission goes according to plan, but what they didn’t expect is that they would fall in love in the process.

Once the mission is complete, Max asks Marianne to return to London with him. The two have a daughter they deeply love, but their lives begin to crumble when Max is informed by a mysterious (and higher ranking) S.O.E. official (Simon McBurney) that his wife is a spy for the Nazis. If the source is correct, Max will have to shoot his wife or else he’ll be executed. A plan is put into motion – leak information to Marianne and see if it gets to the enemy – but with each passing minute, Max can’t handle the thought that the woman he loves is a double agent.

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Movie Review: “Manchester by the Sea”

Starring
Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Heather Burns
Director
Kenneth Lonergan

After enduring a six-year legal battle over 2011’s “Margaret,” writer/director Kenneth Lonergan was probably just happy to see his latest movie get a drama-free release, at least comparatively speaking. The subject of an intense bidding war earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, “Manchester by the Sea” will almost certainly go down as the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of 2016. An incredibly moving, intimate and authentic story about a broken man who’s forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the kind of movie that will absolutely wreck you emotionally, highlighted by an award-worthy performance from Casey Affleck that’s going to be difficult to beat come Oscars night.

Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, an unsociable handyman/janitor for an apartment complex in Boston who must return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea when his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies from a long-standing congenital heart problem. In addition to handling the funeral arrangements and other minutiae, Lee takes it upon himself to break the news to Joe’s 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), with whom he was once close to before a personal tragedy led him to flee the small fishing village for a life of solitude. But when Lee discovers that Joe has named him as Patrick’s sole guardian and custodian, it comes as a shock to both of them. Though Patrick would rather go live with his estranged mother (Gretchen Mol) than move away from his friends and established life in Manchester, Lee’s tragic past has made it impossible for him to remain in the town that has caused him so much pain.

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Movie Review: “Rules Don’t Apply”

Starring
Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick
Director
Warren Beatty

Warren Beatty has reportedly been developing a film about reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes since the 1970s, but the passion project didn’t really begin to take shape until a few years ago when Beatty, who has lately become a bit of a recluse himself, teamed up with Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman to work on the script. Marking Beatty’s first directorial effort since 1998’s “Bulworth” and his first acting role since 2001’s “Town & Country,” “Rules Don’t Apply” is a clumsy and tonally uneven period piece that was likely spoiled by years of tinkering during its lengthy development process. Although it won’t harm his reputation too badly, it’s nonetheless a disappointing comeback that suggests Beatty should have stuck to retirement.

The year is 1959, and small-town beauty queen Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) has arrived in Los Angeles with her devoted mother (Annette Bening) after she’s invited by Hollywood producer Howard Hughes (Beatty) to audition for his upcoming movie. What they don’t realize is that Marla is only one of many young women that Hughes has under contract for the unknown role, with each wannabe actress provided their own house and chauffeured around town to acting and dancing classes while they await their opportunity to meet the enigmatic figure. Marla’s assigned driver, aspiring real estate developer Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), hasn’t even met his boss yet, but they’re both captivated by Hughes and realize what working for him can do for their careers. Despite a rule prohibiting any employee from becoming intimate with one of Hughes’ contract actresses, Marla and Frank begin to form an attraction, only to see their budding relationship threatened when they’re welcomed into Hughes’ inner circle and get caught up in the excitement and drama that it brings.

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