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: “Thor: The Dark World”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings
Director
Alan Taylor

The opening scene in “Thor: The Dark World” is very revealing, but not in the ways that the filmmakers intended. It tells an exposition-laden tale of a battle fought ages ago between Asgardians (Thor’s people) and the dark elves, who planned to use this mystical force called the Aether (pronounced ‘ether’) to distinguish all light. The scene is meant to shed some light on a plot that they must have deemed too difficult to follow, only it’s not. It’s a straightforward revenge story, and the audience would have figured out the rest in time. That they insisted on spoon feeding the audience shows a lack of confidence, and while “Thor: The Dark World” is not as consistent as its predecessor, the film has some truly great moments, including a spectacular climax. To see them acting so desperate is both unbecoming and unnecessary.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his band of merry marauders spend their days hopping from world to world as a peacekeeping force, while Thor’s stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is thrown in jail for the crimes he committed in “The Avengers.” Back on Earth, genius astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still trying to get back to living a normal life, when her gear starts picking up some strange readings that lead her to an abandoned warehouse which houses a portal to the location of the Aether, which the Asgardians had hoped would never be found. Jane’s awakening of the Aether awakens Malekith (Christopher Eccelston), the dark elf whose efforts were thwarted in that ages-ago battle, and with the convergence of the nine worlds about to take place, Malekith plans on finishing what he started all those years ago.

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Weekly Web Series Review: Between Two Ferns

Hosted by Zach Galifianakis at his most awkward, “Between Two Ferns” represents what television talk shows might actually be like in a much more interesting world. Filmed to look like a low-budget public access show, but with big-name celebrity guests, the series mines uncomfortable humor to the fullest. Galifianakis frequently mispronounces the names of his guests and openly insults them, creating an environment of hostility that often feels almost too real. When not blatantly mispronouncing names, he is prone to making intentionally terrible puns out of them, like when he asks Jon Hamm if his middle name is “Honey-Baked,” or if he has considered changing his name to something like “Stewart Turkey-Link.”

The discomfort starts strong right out of the gate in the first episode, in which Galifianakis basically molests Michael Cera. There is a common thread of one-sided sexual tension in many of the episodes, and certainly not just with the female guests, though it may be strongest in the episode featuring Natalie Portman. It is a testament to her skill as an “acteress” that this episode is one of the most authentic, as if she were actually just in the midst of a nightmarish interview set up by the most incompetent agent imaginable. Other episodes are more clearly staged, and perhaps the weakest is the one with Will Ferrell, if only because the two are generally too chummy with each other, at least until the end.

The series is at its best when Galifianakis is openly hostile to his guests, like the episodes featuring Ben Stiller and “Brad Lee Cooper.” Though this hostility is common throughout the series, only “Conan O. Brien” gets an explanation, which is that Galifianakis thought he had a shot at “The Tonight Show.” Another especially convincing episode features Galifianakis’ “twin brother,” Seth, interviewing a wooden-faced Sean Penn, who really seems like he might haul off and punch Galifianakis at any moment. As with Portman, it is Penn’s acting skill that pulls off the joke so well.

A pitch-perfect spoof of bad, desperate public access talk shows, “Between Two Ferns” is easily one of the best offerings from the always enjoyable Funny or Die. Even the opening and closing theme music feels authentic, though it is actually lifted from Bernard Herrmann‘s “Taxi Driver” score, which adds to Galifianakis’ creepy, angry vibe. I’m not sure how well it would work as a full-length show on television, but in the small segments available online, it is hilarious.

  

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