Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

Dolphin Reef

Last week we were discussing Elephant, a brand new nature documentary released on Disney+. Disneynature films are perhaps not the most scientific among documentaries but they are beautifully photographed and extremely family-friendly. During these difficult days of self-quarantine, parents struggling to home-school their children or even just provide for some less junky screen time may want to turn to Disney+ for this not inconsiderable benefit. In fact, Disney+ is also home to National Geographic programs as well, perhaps better suited to older students. In any case, you can get a free one month trial from the streaming service and it’s hard to imagine a better time than now to use in.

Dolphin Reef is another incredible offering from Disneynature. This one dives under the waves near the Polynesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean to explore a colourful and diverse environment on the ocean’s floor. Dolphins have long been fascinating to we bipedal, air-breathing, earth-walkers. They are smart and engaging. They communicate and express emotion. They are playful and have close family bonds.

Echo is a young bottlenose dolphin who, at the age of 3, is struggling with the notion of growing up. His mom is devotedly and determinedly trying to teach him the ways of the reef but Echo keeps giving in to his silly side. But despite his playfulness, dolphin society is tricky, and survival depends on skill and preparedness.

As if Echo isn’t enough, we’ll also meet a mother-daughter humpback whale duo and learn some of the parallel trials and tribulations of growing up whale. In fact, there’s an entire ocean filled with orcas, sea turtles, and cuttlefish, and we’ll get the most amazing front row seats to it all.

What distinguishes a Disney nature documentary from others is that they write a narrative to go along with the pictures so kids get to know the animals personally. Each one becomes a character we can not only learn about, but root for. A few liberties are taken but on the whole the story fits accurately within the animal kingdom and the result is an exciting and engaging watch.

For me, even besides the dolphin and whale families we’ll get to know intimately, I just love trolling along the sandy bottom and discovering the bright and beautiful life that lives there. Lots of people look to the stars and imagine what alien life might exist, but I’ve always preferred plunging below the sea and exploring those unfathomable depths. There are creatures living on our own planet that defy our understanding. This documentary explores fairly shallow waters and still encounters fascinating species to capture the imagination.

Narrated by a very excited Natalie Portman, Dolphin Reef is an adventure worth taking.

Top 10 Star Wars Capes

Edna Mode is a fashion designer to the stars, and by stars I mean super heroes. She is the bespeckled wonder responsible for suiting up The Incredibles and she has one golden rule: no capes. Clearly no one in a certain galaxy far, far away cares to follow this little nugget of common sense. There are capes nearly everywhere you look. Every dramatic exit is done with the flourish of a cape. So even though we can all agree they’re a stupid sartorial choice, let’s indulge ourselves with an ode to Star Wars’s sweeping capes and the people who wear them.

[By the way: did you know Sean and are watching 24 hours of Star Wars movies? What else could inspire such a post?]

10. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): Luke is not normally prone to capes and yet this teeny tiny glimpse of one could just as easily held the #1 spot as #10. It’s part of his big reveal and proves a flair for the dramatic runs in the family.

9. Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits, Episodes I-III): as a Senator, Bail Organa indulges a certain stateliness. This guy’s got more than one cape in his closet and he doesn’t care who knows. You might start to think that the Rebel Alliance might have been more successful had they only cut all the capes – I bet you could build a death star or two for the price of their dry cleaning bill.

8. General Grievous (Episode III): I can’t help but feel that this dude wears such a suspiciously huge cape that someone should have guessed that he was hiding something underneath. In fact, I am routinely surprised and disappointed by what the so-called Force fails to pick up. Some pretty big stuff, to be honest, that even your average intuition could have detected. It doesn’t take a jedi knight to figure out that big cape = big trouble.

7. Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie, Episodes VII-VIII): I never watched any Star Wars growing up but even I couldn’t fail to pick on some of the iconic images so persistent in popular culture. I recognized storm troopers as the bad guys of Star Wars long before anyone told me they were but to be honest, as a kid I always imagined that they were robots. I wasn’t cured of this delusion until The Force Awakens, when I learned there were humans inside that molded plastic. The uniformity of their uniforms (if you’ll forgive my redundancy) spelled machine to me – perhaps being a woman I just have an innate fear of wearing the same thing as someone else (who wore it best?) and Captain Phasma feels me. It’s hard to really distinguish yourself in a suit of armour but she accessories with this somber one-shouldered garment.

6. Padme (Natalie Portman, Episodes I-III): Padme also has an awful lot of capes, even when you sort them from the similar appeal of the long jacket, the cloak, the robe, and the poncho. No matter how you slice it these folks sure like to have a piece of cloth flowing behind them, announcing arrivals and departures. Is it dangerous around all these ship engines? Definitely. Awkward in battle? Absolutely. And yet: total capetown.

5. Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One): I think Krennic’s capes are a direct reflection of his lack of confidence. He’s insecure, so he tries to impress people with his vestments. He certainly looks important but capes don’t make you competent.

4. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Episodes VI-IX): Kylo Ren is a lot like his father – petulant and temperamental with a well-developed emo side. It’s no surprise that the cape appeals to him as well. It helps a young guy who perhaps isn’t fully respected yet cut an imposing figure.

3. Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch, Episodes V-VI): for some reason, lots of little boys were absolutely taken with Boba Fett because of his ‘cool armour’ which is baffling to me. Boba Fett is a boring, unnoteworthy character as far as I’m concerned. But he’s got this little torn piece of canvas dangling from his shoulder, so he’s not without vanity. He may never show his face, but he wants you to know he’s an individual.

2. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Episodes V-VI): this dude may be a scoundrel and a cheat but he’s charming and well-dressed and let’s face it, a bit of a scene-stealer. We learn in Solo: A Star Wars Story that the Millennium Falcon has a cape room in it, that’s how much Lando loves his capes, so it’s hard to pick just one. Plus, Williams has a knack for using them in a commanding but flashy way. He wears the cape, the cape doesn’t wear him.

  1. Darth Vader: production designer John Barry and costume designer John Mollo have my utmost admiration for having come up with perhaps THE most iconic look of the 20th, and maybe even 21st, century. Darth Vader is immediately intimidating, the cape makes him broader, more imposing, and it follows the same lines of his helmet. Darth Vader is scary as heck and in a series of films full of costumes the likes of which we’ve never seen before, his is the most memorable.

Vox Lux

There are two acts to Vox Lux, and they’re both not great, but the first is at least sort of watchable.

13 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) barely survives a school shooting in 1999. Unable to translate her feelings into words for the memorial, she, accompanied by her sister El (Stacy Martin), instead perform a song, which launches a pop career. Somehow. Guided by The Manager (Jude Law), the girls grow up way too fast, but Celeste manages to translate the song into a video and the video into an album, which comes out more or less around 9/11 and manages to tap into a country’s, and in fact the world’s, collective grief. Celeste is a star, mostly because she was the one shot in the throat that fateful day, and her sister, the more talented of the two, had stayed home sick.

Fast forward to present day. Celeste is now 31 (and played by Natalie Portman), mother to a teenage daughter, Albertine (unfortunately played by Cassidy, again, in a performance not at all distinguished from the above). Celeste is as global a superstar as you can be, complete with a recent meltdown and nearly career-ending swerve. But she’s counting on this new album to get things on the right path again. She’s still drunk, though, and still perved on by the same greasy manager. And as luck would have it, just as she’s about to kick off her world tour, there’s another mass shooting wherein the terrorists wear masks from her first music video. And just like that she’s relevant again. But it’s a tragedy, right? Not a cancel the tour tragedy of course, because it happens overseas.

Anyway, the first bit reminded me a bit of Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique – by which I mean, it’s gritty and eerie and atmospheric. But it’s a copy, and not a great one. And that’s the absolute highlight of the film. It’s steeply downhill with rollerskates and a highly motivated dog from there.

Natalie Portman’s grown-up Celeste has no redeeming features whatsoever. She’s shrill and vacuous and we don’t see any of what happened to her in the interim to possibly explain away this complete and horrid transformation.

Clearly writer-director Brady Corbet means to say something about celebrity culture at the very least. But what is it? It’s tempting to say that the second half loses the MV5BMTkzNzAwOTYyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY5MjQ4NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_thread, but the truth is, the first half is boring enough that I don’t care about a lost thread because the whole damn sweater is garbage and a waste of good yarn. You know? Like, Sia worked hard on these songs. And the movie is slick looking, with cinematography just dripping its luridness all over the screen. But damn is it pretentious in a deflated, empty kind of way. And then the last 20 minutes or so are just concert footage, just full on Natalie Portman in a spandex body suit not quite nailing her choreography all over a stage full of unconvincing dancers. Was my jaw completely unhinged watching this or did it just feel that way? I can’t be sure. Sean tried to watch this with me, but it wouldn’t play when we rented it initially and he was gone off to work by the time I went back to it, and bully for him. I’m the one who watched it, aghast. This is Natalie Portman’s follow-up to what probably should have been an Oscar-winning performance in Jackie?

[I mean, to be fair, it’s not. She was also in Annihilation, and quite good in that, and Song to Song, which is not worth mentioning.]

Vox Lux is a derivative piece of junk. So, not unlike a pop song I suppose.

The Darjeeling Limited

Stream of conscious watching a Wes Anderson movie:

Already loving the quirky little score, borrowed heavily from Indian films, as the pedi-cab races toward the train station.

Less than 3 minutes into the film and we’ve already left poor Bill Murray behind. Why do I feel guilty though? Peter (Adrian Brody) races by him, hopping on the train right before it leaves the station. Stupid Adrian Brody.

Peter’s brother Jack (Jason Schwartzman) has at least 8 pieces of luggage. A lovely set of course, but for ease of travel, perhaps he should consider one larger case rather than a bunch of oddly shaped little ones?

Their third brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), arrives with a busted face and a very strict mv5bmtuzmtq2mjq4nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwodg1oty4na@@._v1_sy1000_cr0,0,1493,1000_al_schedule to find the path to spirituality, plus an unseen assistant with a laminating machine to keep things on course. The 3 brothers have not seen each other in a year.

The brothers exchange unprescribed but over-the-counter drugs. It is immediately obvious why they might have avoided one another for a year.

Is it really a think to walk barefoot on trains in India? That creeps me out. There must be a special kind of athlete’s foot you get from the stinky carpeting.

Francis has so many rules for his brother that I’m starting to feel vicariously oppressed.

No wonder their mother (Anjelica Huston) hasn’t joined them: who would willing submit to this road trip with the world’s most sulky, dopey, resentful brothers?

The train scenes are shot on an actual moving train, moving from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, through the Thar desert. They requisitioned 10 rain cars and a locomotive, which Wes Anderson redecorated to his aesthetic. Nothing could be attached to the ceiling, and equipment couldn’t hang more than a meter out the windows.

How can the train be lost? It’s on rails!

Francis has just revealed their secret destination: to visit their mother, who has become a nun and is living in a convent in the Himalayas. Their visit may or may not be welcome.

With such militant scheduling, it’s kind of miraculous that they remain late for the train every damn time.

Turns out there are 11 pieces of luggage; they were designed for the film by Marc Jacobs by Louis Vuitton.

Kicked off the train, the 3 brothers and their copious luggage are traveling along a path when they see a raft carrying 3 kids overturn. The brothers plunge into the waters to save them, but one is dashed against rocks and killed. The look on Adrian Brody’s face when he says “I didn’t save mine” – oof, that’s real acting right there.

I like this custom of the father washing his son’s body before the funeral. I think Western cultures are too detached from death. There’s a tragic tenderness to this scene, just a few seconds of film, actually, that really moves me.

Francis implies that his wounds are actually self-inflicted in a suicide attempt, which is particularly hard to bear since Owen Wilson was taken off the press tour for this movie after his own suicide attempt.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) was a child prodigy, but now that she’s 23, she’s just a woman who hasn’t made a musical mark yet. She’s the manager of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which Mr. Magorium claims to have owned for 114 years. The toy store is frantic with happy children – like FAO Schwartz given the Toy Story treatment. The toys are nearly alive with magic. The store is filled with the strange and the fantastic.

Molly’s right hand man is Eric Applebaum, a kid who struggled to make friends his own age, but shows up the toy store every day in one of the many hats from his impressive collection. One day, Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) realizes, in his 243rd year, that Magorium3perhaps it is time to get his affairs in order. He hires a very straight-laced accountant named Henry (Jason Bateman) to set things right before he dies. His lifetime supply of shoes is on its last pair, so his death is imminent, if not quite predictable. Unable to decipher the difference between important documents and doodles, Mr. Magorium’s files are intimidating, even to an ultra boring accountant like Henry. And Molly is not keen to inherit if it means the death of her friend.

The toy shop itself seems to be suffering from some affliction; it too is in mourning, sulking over its fate, and the magic is seeping out in a fit of rebellion.  With Mr. Magorium gone, from whence will magic come?

I’ve never understood how this movie isn’t more watched and applauded and beloved. Yes, it tries hard to be wonderful and whimsical. And just where, exactly, is the criticism in that? It’s about a magical toy shop, for the love of dragon scales! Isn’t maximum effort appreciated anymore? My inner child adores this movie. My grown up self adores this movie! It’s the good kind of cutesy, filled with moving pieces and primary colours. But with themes of belief and inspiration, this isn’t just for kids. It’s for anyone with a little sparkle in their hearts, or the space for some.

Your Highness

Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride), who smells like sheep scrotum, is his brother’s lesser in every way. Prince Fabious (James Franco) is more handsome and more accomplished, kinder and a better brother. He’s even brought home Belladonna (Zoey Deschanel), the most beautiful woman in all the land, to be his bride. But his wedding day is interrupted by a Leezar (Justin Theroux), a powerful warlock upset about his dead cyclops and stolen virgin. He comes to seek revenge and fulfill an ancient prophecy, leaving with Belladonna and thus, Fabious’s heart.

Their father, the king, orders the inept Thadeous to accompany Fabious on his quest, god knows why. And so begins an adventure. Had Fabious gone alone it no doubt MV5BMTUxNzMwODc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQ4MTA4NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_would have been a five minute drive up the road, wit both he and his bride making it back in time to cut the cake at their reception. Throw Thadeous into the mix and all you’ve got is a stoner period piece that’s a vehicle for Danny McBride. I mean, Your Highness looks pretty great, truth be told. It’s got a big enough budget to go through the motions. But McBride’s humour is stunted. It’s like he’s always writing for 12 year olds. And, sure, the first time you hear milady say the f-word it makes the tips of your ears blush, but you can’t build a whole movie on just out of place rude humour. Well, okay, point taken – apparently you can, and apparently Universal will pay you 50 million dollars to do it – but there isn’t a mammal on Earth who shouldn’t have seen this flop coming a mile away.

How, then, does such a movie garner such a high-profile cast? Natalie Portman has been adamant about distancing herself from it. She says she only did it because she wasn’t sure Black Swan would be green-lit by a studio and she felt she could use this paycheque to self-finance the film herself, if need be. However (and perhaps, for her, unfortunately), Black Swan got green-lit fairly easily, but the contract was already signed and she had to go through with Your Highness anyway, and stumble over great lines like “burning in my beaver.” James Franco has been less circumspect, saying the film “sucked,” which is still a kinder review than the one I’m writing, but then, if I had earned $2.5M for it, I might be a little more defensive too. As it is, I have zero sympathy for a movie that can’t have even sounded good on paper, not even on RAW, unrefined rolling papers, the kind you light on fire and allow to go up in smoke.

 

TIFF18: The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is a good movie in the shadow of a great one.

As a child, Rupert Turner was enamoured with a teen hearthrob, John F. Donovan, who was actually an adult playing a teenager on some soapy high school drama. A budding actor himself, Rupert (Jacob Tremblay) writes to Donovan (Kit Harington), telling him of his ambitions and desires – namely, to one day act alongside him. Surprisingly, Donovan writes back, and a beautiful friendship is forged, strictly as pen pals. But when that relationship is discovered, first by Rupert’s mother (Natalie Portman), then by the press, the friendship is misinterpreted and Donovan vilified. He dies before our two buddies can ever meet up.

john_f_donovanTen years later, a grown-up Rupert (Ben Schnetzer) is releasing a collection of their correspondence as a book, and a skeptical reporter (Thandie Newton) is interviewing him. The truth of their friendship is revealed through flashbacks, as is Donovan’s life, which of course was not all rainbows and lollipops.

Behind his privilege, Donovan had an absent father, a family that fauns over him and resents him in equal measure, an alcoholic mother (Susan Sarandon), an agent who is decidedly not his friend (Kathy Bates), and a girlfriend/childhood friend (Emily Hampshire) who is also his beard (unknowingly). He’s hiding a lot. He lives in a world filled with illusion. He’s pulled in a thousand directions and has no friends who aren’t on the payroll, and yeah, it is kind of sad that he unburdens his soul to a kid, but it’s also kind of understandable, which is sadder still.

Director Xavier Dolan is uniquely positioned to have something to say about child actors and the celebrity beast and I really enjoyed his attempts at profundity in this film. This is his first English-language film and while there are still traces of his typically auteur-ish style, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is perhaps missing just a little of what normally makes a Dolan a Dolan. It also suffers a bit from bloat. Susan Sarandon’s performance is quite good, her character very interesting, but there isn’t a lot of room for her, as Dolan cut the movie down from 4 hours to just over 2 (and left Jessica Chastain completely on the cutting room floor). Kathy Bates’ part isn’t really a part at all, barely more than a cameo.

Dolan’s crime seems to have been starting out with too much to say and then having a hard time parting ways with any of it during editing. But I think John Donovan is a character worth getting to know. And the topic of celebrity death, and our cultural obsession with it, and possibly contribution to it, is ripe for harvesting.  I think the wording of the title has something to say about it all by itself. This movie isn’t all that it could be, and coming in to a Xavier Dolan film, I can’t help but bring high hopes and standards. But there’s something worthwhile here, and I hope it will be mined for the diamonds and not just the flaws.