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: “The Magnificent Seven”

Starring
Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Hayley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Hollywood remakes are hardly a new concept, but while there have been a handful of movies that actually improved upon the original, most tend not to be as good, either because they veer too far from what made them enjoyable or not far enough to make it worthwhile. Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” is an interesting case in that it’s technically a remake of a remake, based on the 1960 John Sturges film of the same name, which was itself inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” Although it certainly had the odds stacked against it, the movie succeeds where so many have failed by retaining the spirit of its predecessors while also distinguishing itself just enough to stand on its own. It’s not exactly magnificent, but it’s a slick and entertaining take on a familiar tale that’s bursting with personality.

The year is 1879, and the small town of Rose Creek has been invaded by an evil mining baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who presents the townspeople with an ultimatum: accept his paltry offer to buy their land or stay and suffer the consequences when he returns in three weeks. And to prove that he means business, Bogue murders the outspoken husband of Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett). While her neighbors cower inside their homes, Emma goes searching for help in a nearby town and hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who in turn recruits six other men – drunken gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knives expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), fur trapper Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to protect the town and put an end to Bogue’s tyranny. But as they prepare for the inevitable attack, the seven mercenaries soon realize that they’re fighting for more than money.

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Movie Review: “Lovelace”

Starring
Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, James Franco
Directors
Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

1972’s “Deep Throat” was the porn flick that took blowjobs out of the closet and put them on “The Tonight Show.” It’s star was by far the most famous pornographic performer of all time and, it turns out, a victim of shocking abuse.

The only surviving film of a pair of planned projects about the woman who will forever be known as Linda Lovelace, “Lovelace” stars Amanda Seyfried as Linda and Peter Sarsgaard as her first husband, sexual Svengali and tormentor, Chuck Traynor. The most interesting thing about “Lovelace” is its structure. The film breaks down pretty clearly into two parts: one largely comedic, the other brutally tragic.

Part one is mostly a shockingly cheerful porn biopic that will please those who are longing for a less weighty “Boogie Nights” follow-up. It shows us how a sleazy but nevertheless charming and love struck Traynor seduces sweet and only slightly damaged 21-year-old Linda Boreman away from her unpleasantly rigid, super-traditional Catholic mom (Sharon Stone), her low-key security officer dad (Robert Patrick) and her understandably suspicious best friend (Juno Temple). The tone grows more blackly comedic as skeezy Chuck gets involved with pornsters and sells them on his wife’s borderline disturbing ability to suppress her gag reflex. Linda Lovelace is born.

Sometime after we see Hugh Hefner (a miscast James Franco) suggest that life should imitate art in a very specific way during a screening of the now hugely successful “Deep Throat,” “Lovelace” abruptly takes us six years later into 1980 as Linda Marchiano – she’s now married to apparent good-guy cable installer Chuck Marchiano (Wes Bentley) – passes a polygraph test and promotes her book, “Ordeal,” on the “Phil Donahue Show.” Just as abruptly, the film circles back to give us Linda’s very personal point of view of the events surrounding “Deep Throat.” It’s no prettier than the visible bruises on her legs.

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