Jackie

So last night I watched Pablo Larrain’s, critically acclaimed – Jackie. This film delivers on a very thorough account of Jacqueline Kennedy’s pain and grief following the assassination of President John, F Kennedy.

I was drawn to this film by the starring presence of one of my favourite actresses, Natalie Portman. For me Portman is, and always has been, a special actress. From her young role in Luc Besson’s, Leon: The Professional (1995), where she plays Mathilda, a 12-year-old aspiring ‘hit girl’, and one of my all time favourite films, to her more recent performances, where her remarkable ability to take on far from comforting roles are ceaselessly engaging.

So where to begin with this film…

For me, watching Jackie resembled being forced to listen to someone holding the notes D then B on the piano over and over. I feel awkwardly attentive, anxious for it to end yet genuinely entranced by its unclear intent. Similarly this film plays on an understated, colourless retelling of an almightily haunting event. This is not to say that this recitation is in any way an unsuccessful piece of work, it is in fact extraordinary. In the same way the piano holds me there, this film is truly hypnotic.

Jackie relies on hushed, sombre and expressionless tones, contrasted with the desperately poignant pink, bloodied Chanel suit, which furiously holds our attention. Yet this film cleverly remains in a state of composed emotion, where the sense of forced calmness simply heightens the depth of tragedy. As a result this film has absolutely nothing to hide behind in taking on such an eminent event.

As with anything uncomfortable, whilst watching Jackie I battle with finding the drive to continue, to really focus on its purpose, it’s worth. I am clear in the knowledge that, as with all her performances, Portman yet again examples an exceptionally steady commitment to her role, with a determined attempt at encompassing all that is Jacqueline Kennedy, speaking in a slow and breathy cadence and holding herself with collective distress. Portman is genuinely mesmerising, her dedication to Jackie is unquestionably evident yet I stand to question whether this is enough to persuade me of liking this film.

Having said this, essentially this film lays out a very detailed account of a very private story – of a widow coming to terms with the murder of a beloved husband, which although when occurred was brutally publicised, the aftermath is terribly personal. Thus it stands to reason that we are not in for an easy viewing and ‘liking’ this film is thus too simple a request.

As this film progresses, Jackie remains cold, inflamed by Portman’s harsh adaptation, which along with her hyper ‘affected’ accent and her over- composed stature is perhaps almost too cold at times. Even in Jackie’s more heightened displays of grieving emotion, I can’t seem to quite get to grips with the ‘real’ Jackie. For the first time ever I find myself questioning whether it is Jackie Kennedy or Natalie Portman here who isn’t likeable. But again, I must remind myself that we are watching the disturbing portrayal of a woman’s madness in grief and this unlikable depiction is found in an intentional and natural detachment from everything around her and, is for me where this film’s claustrophobic sense resonates. Thus I turn to admire this picture of grief, this interpretation of its effects in response to a situation so far removed from my understanding and one Portman stirringly recalls.

I further believe that the sense of ambiguity that is associated with this film resides I think, in its rapidity. This short time period allows for no character normality, no emotional development and no relieving closure. It presents an unremitting, widely intense time of pure incredulity at a truly incredulous time.

Artlessly put, Jackie is a film which, to watch feels like you’ve turned on the TV to find your half way through a movie about the Kennedys, however you’ve missed the inspiring, uplifting presidency part and are now left with the unavoidably awful end. I suppose you’re almost left thinking – why have I chosen to watch only this part of the story, the part that focuses purely on pain and one I am already deplorably familiar with. However again I argue with myself that this is a story that spotlights her not him and I think this here is exactly where attention is worthy…

Portman and those others around her (actors and actresses that intentionally fall forgotten to the concerted presence of Jackie herself) are quietly powerful and gently portrayed. Bobby Kennedy played by Peter Sarsgaard in particular is as subtle as a feather. His character is determinedly supportive, whilst detracting nothing from the focus of our key woman.

Ultimately, this is a film about a woman, a wife and mother who takes on the unwanted pressure of the press and the world in the midst of an unholy event. A first lady who, always second to her husband, is now first to his murder and a killing that powerfully yet fatefully connects her to the public. We are not faced with a glamorous retelling of a Jackie who is disingenuously mournful and histrionically grief stricken, a Jackie that entreats to the desires of a society that expects Hollywood dramas and overt emotion. We are here given an almightily raw and honest depiction that delves deeper and deeper into a woman’s agony and is certainly one to be admired.

Although I find myself no closer to understanding the woman that was Jackie Kennedy, I do find myself enthralled by the careful retelling of those unnervingly private succession of events that followed November 22nd 1963.

I would certainly recommend this film but advise those to keep in mind its difficult viewing. It is one indeed worth watching, for Jackie herself, if nothing else.

Their Finest

Their finest, directed by Lone Scherfig, written by Gaby Chiappe is certainly a charming wartime movie to be recommended. Set in 1940 amidst the violent Blitz, a young female writer is hired to help create an epic Propaganda film about the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk.

This film is suitably passionate with an appropriate balance of World War drama and light British humour. Each character is wonderfully written, and perfectly aligned to the actor playing them, making casting an all round triumph.

Where Gemma Arterton has been almightily praised for her performance in Their Finest, I in absolutely every way concur. I remember Arterton mainly for her slightly underwhelming roles in St Trinian’s and for some Bond film I think we can all agree was distinctly unremarkable…Yet as passionately consistent as Donald Trump is about fake tan, I can tell you for sure that Arterton here is just as unfailing.

Arterton plays Catrin Cole, the newly appointed scriptwriter for propaganda films during the Second World War. I can boldly assert that her recent career on the stage has evidently transformed her into a damn good actress. Where actors can sometimes wither in the presence of great names such as Nighy or stick out like a sore thumb against rising names such as Sam Claflin, she holds her own, leading us through this wartime drama with a confidence that comes only with experience.

Arguably her character is not widely interesting, but in my opinion, a character with a more simplistic nature is often harder to enrich. Arterton acts with grace and subtle empowerment, intelligently leading this film into a successful exploration of the role of women in wartime. Additionally this films digression into the power of creativity is marvellously detailed, combining hilarity with patriarchy as well as a deeper understanding of the belligerence of war. There is real sentimental focus on the way movies were made back in the 1940s. The modest depiction of British propaganda is deeply nostalgic, profoundly tender yet relentlessly entertaining.

Scherfig further introduces an appreciated element of romance to this tale, written through the character of Tom Buckley – a handsome, chauvinistic writer who eventually humbles, played by Sam Claflin. This is a very comfortable casting decision. Claflin is most definitely the appropriate choice and a good one at that. He delivers on all accessible aspects of his character, on his gradual humility as well as his likeable arrogance.

However, I would argue that his character is somewhat muddled towards the end of this film. I am not sure he is given enough opportunity to develop himself as deeply as his fellow characters, not helped by Tom Buckley’s surprisingly abrupt ending.

I am inclined to argue that one of the elements of this film’s uncertainty lies with this character, who gives it a slightly befuddled impression. We are drawn into a false sense of romantic hope, where in my opinion, some positivity would not ruin the overall tone of the film. More importantly, the result of this ending does not heighten nor bring any further awareness to the resilience of women in wartime, which for me would have remained in place without this unnecessarily morbid ending. Nevertheless I suppose a plot twist such as this is potentially useful to an otherwise gentle drama, perhaps fault lies in the way it is simply constructed.

Anyway, moving on to the more successful components of this film, of which I must say, there are many… Bill Nighy mightily takes on the character of Ambrose Hilliard, a self-involved has been, whose comic presence is ingeniously written in balance with this films deeply serious setting. His magnificent acting capabilities amount to a character that we can love and laugh with. This, as well as embed in viewers a deeper understanding of the inescapable solemnity of loss and war. Nighy plays his part with an air of irony, and works as a remarkable asset to this films lighter hand as well as to its darker core.

So although far from perfect, this film boldly tells a tale of love and death in the midst of war with the same solemn subtleness found in Scherfig’s, An Education. This is a very grown up film with much to offer in its gallant efforts to highlight the role of women within a male-driven world of war. Its simple charm is reflected and centralised in the character of Catrin, who radiates female worth, upheld by an award-worthy performance from Arterton.

I would highly recommend it, yet similar to other Scherfig films; I am not immediately compelled to watch it again. However I stand firm on the conclusion that if you want to immerse yourself in what is truly a heart-warming celebration of human spirit and self worth then do go and see this film.

Beauty & the Beast

So next on my list was to go and see the much-anticipated Beauty and the Beast. I am 23 years old, however like many I went to see this film with the hope of satisfying the ever-present child in me.

Typically whenever I plan to see a new movie, I refer to the cast, the music score, director and pay a visit to Rotten Tomatoes for a general analysis. However I decided to go in blind (with the exception of the lead roles but it has been nearly impossible to escape the full force of Miss Watson and her barrage of neo-liberal Disney antics).

I now have to be quite honest and say that as much as I would love to hate this cheese-in fuelled onslaught of Disney Drama, I cannot bring myself to. To watch, this film was like silk – utter fairy-tale perfection. Carefully written with superb visuals, this film transports us into a world of sublime beauty. However this world is not without its imperfections, where greed, ignorance and superficial morals are heartily dismantled, the true meaning of beauty – that is the beauty within – is celebrated.

Of course the adult in me was not totally quelled and like all modern-day fairy tale adaptations, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the overload of desperately cheesy ensembles. Yet I could not help but sing along to the wonderfully reformed Be our Guest, nor resist laughing at the easy jokes and was almost brought to tears by the wonderfully impassioned Beauty and her Beast. Where awkwardly cheesy lines are evidently necessary for the adoration of young girls, adults can reel in the simple energy and dexterity of this politically palpable production.

So like all blockbusting movies, it clearly owes its success to a vast number of factors. Casting, although unexpected in areas, is overall a marketing marvel. Although Watson is undeniably beautiful, her skills as a capable actor have often been brought into question. For the record I think her adaptation of Belle is almost flawless and where she lessens as an actress, she shines as a worthy role model for young people everywhere. Her natural elegance is suitably fitting for a princess but it is her characters thirst for adventure, her drive for something more than her provincial life that makes Watson so much more convincing. Her delivery of those all-important messages that reject notions of discrimination, that calls for a jamboree of all our differences, that motivates and encourages young girls to aim higher, is full of genuine spirit. This, together with the gloriously exaggerated character of Gaston, mightily played by Evans, whose comic ignorance never falters (…she is the prettiest girl in the town and that makes her the best), harmlessly introduces and captures the too often chauvinistic attitudes of reality.

Personally, the only downfall for me was the dress – Belle’s all time famous golden gown, which made her look more poofy pudding than Princess. However I remain wholly enraptured by the picturesque loveliness and stunning scenarios that rule this film. The sheer magnitude of creativity and imagination here is quite exquisite. If down on the acting capabilities (and the dress), this film more than makes up for it with the volume of digital design and animated artistry, which is surely something to be admired.

So in keeping with my lack of pre-knowledge regarding the casting of this production, I must say one of my favourite moments came when those behind the ebullient talking furniture were revealed at the end. Some voices, were easily recognisable as the wonderfully comforting Ian Mckellon who played Cogsworth and the fabulous Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza. However I was mightily surprised when Ewan McGregor appeared as Lumiere and my slight disgruntlement at the plainly fake French accent was immediately forgotten.

The reassurance we feel as a result of watching a film such as this is predominantly led by the maternal character of Mrs Potts. Emma Thompson’s nurturing voice as well as her impeccable singing voice brings a comfort to this film that is perfectly in balance with the darker elements of the tale.

I think what each and every character is able to uphold here is an easy theatrical playfulness together with a determination that steadily maintains the underlying message of this film – that encourages understanding, empathy and tolerance. A lot of course, is cleverly owed to Director, Bill Condon who commendably works these subtle relevancies into traditional Disney that marks for an innovative, fresh form of future fairy-tales.

I want to now turn to what is for me, one of the most significant parts of any film, the music score. Credit here goes to Alan Menkin, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and once again they do not let us down when it comes to another stunning Disney musical narration. These passionately profound musical renditions are so skilfully adapted and so utterly lovely to listen to, they easily triumph in refining and fulfilling the overall charm of this magical tale. The main rendition of Beauty and the Beast is both deliciously nostalgic and yet perfectly renewed. Even when the Beast himself began his singing declamation to Belle, I was happy to reel in its cheesy enchantment and hardly squirmed in its cringey delivery.

So where this film can pride itself lies in a wide range of delights. However where I feel it is most worthy of victory is in its powerful push for female empowerment. This film honours a time where changing gender roles are gaining social and economic momentum and sexuality is becoming more variable and less defined. This film highlights the shortcomings of living in a flat, monotonous society, to encourage one of expressionism, where free speech is celebrated and ambition and opportunity freely exist. This film exhibits a genuine spirit that draws the child from the adult and the adult from the child, with its politically established themes and visually animated ensembles. I would recommend this film to all.

La La Land

You know when you smell a smell or you enter a place and you get that almost sickening, yet comforting nostalgic sensation and you’re not quite sure why? Or like when you meet somebody new and you mark this overwhelming resemblance of him or her to an old friend of yours? You know how you feel slightly restless at the unquestionableness of it; you can’t logically explain it but the feeling is there? Well, that captured strangeness is how I felt when watching this film. It was like meeting an old friend, like smelling a new, old smell. I felt at home…

I might add here that I am not going to take a controversial stand and attempt to provide a review that contentiously lists reasons why an 185 award winning film is overrated and flawed as this kind of sensation is not, for me, an overvalued experience, but is a worthy one. It is in fact, a glorious one.

So now where to begin? I think it important to note that those of you who do not enjoy – and by enjoy I mean – those of you who do not fall into the heavenly, bright and joyful madness that is a good musical, should definitely not go and see this film. For it is just that, it is madness. Emotions are intensified and plots are idealistic. Characters are embellished and the singing – excessive. However these extremes are the essence of all genuinely extraordinary musicals. And along with the madness there is grace. True class and elegance where style and silliness collide. I am taken back to the wonderfully smooth High Society, to the delightful and exciting Singing in the Rain and I can safely say that La La Land may proudly place itself alongside these timeless classics.

You see what La La Land so successfully does is capture the heart of a typical whirlwind romance, with all the lashings of an old-time love affair yet with a fresh contemporary LA style. This film maintains the traditionalist characters of Kelly (both Grace and Jean), Sinatra and Armstrong Jazz but introduces these types into the modern world. It is powerfully reminiscent of the need to remember old-style rhythm and blues, of selling out to commercial moneymaking music with painfully predictable lyrics and empty purpose. Bring back the soul cries out this film. BRING BACK THE SOUL!

In celebrating such a masterful piece, one must of course applaud those involved and when fronted by two such notable leaders of the acting world, Chazelle and his gang could only dream they would hold their own quite so spectacularly. What is astonishing about Gosling and Stone is their ability to maintain and embrace so closely to them the true meaning of musical drama. To carry with them a natural musical essence that is so often unseen in acting today. Stone’s unbroken dedication to her character’s determination and endlessly joyful singing contributions brings an uninterrupted light to this film. This is together with Gosling’s casual smoothness and velvet charm, who gently transports us through the film with his unswerving rendition of Mia and Sebastian’s theme. Both voices play their part exceptionally and unexpectedly well. Gosling’s softer edge carefully and effectively compliments Stone’s richer and far bigger performances. Both however carry their own panache; both are equally essential to the film’s movement.

Now I know Ryan is what dreams are made of but truth be told, it was Emma who danced her way into the limelight. Her simple radiance shone throughout, enlivening us to great heights of laughter as well as then falling into achingly sad portrayals. She adopted a sort of sophisticated vulnerability that bore a familiar resemblance to Debbie Reynolds, who’s delicate acting style along with her unassuming playfulness was what admirers, like myself, once shared in and adored. I watched Emma very closely I must say – as I think us women do with female leads. We silently judge and urge them to succeed, yet maintain an almost distrustful attitude – we are our most harsh and honest critics. And so in keeping with this and as I focus in, I am lost within those wonderfully wide and watery eyes. It is with pure delight that I watch her effortlessly develop her character with depth, personality and with entertainment. Carrying off natural wit is where female leads can lose their grasp, often as a result of bland character writing. However, Mia was written with humour and with modesty, which Stone carries with exuberant ease.

Now let us welcome Ryan back into the discussion (as of course it would be a hellish crime not to). Fantasy for Gosling now no longer relies as it once did, principally on his good looks and cucumber cool charm, but now on his musically masterful talent. Ryan manages to break away from procuring an over the top dramatic acting style that so many modern day musical actors buckle to. His aptitude for rhythm and the consistency of his subtle presence throughout is so remarkable that again I am reminiscent of a similar easy charm in actors, James Stewart and Bing Crosby. Gosling so carefully upholds the magic irony of his character, for tied to him is that powerful message to protect and remember the golden age of jazz – where this film begins and where it ends.

So this dream of a musical obviously owes itself to its wonderful score, where of course thanks must be paid to the extraordinary Justin Hurwitz. One simply floats upon the gentle melody that is Mia and Sebastian’s main theme and immediately we are lifted into the fantasy of song and dance. It evokes within us, within the part of ourselves, which is too often suppressed by mundane, serious realism, a longstanding desire to make the simple reality of out boring lives into the thrill of a musical. I know I speak for all musical fans when I say the opening scene where frustrated individuals stuck in a traffic jam burst into song about Another day of Sun, is one we all wish was an acceptable everyday occurrence – where how we feel is conversed in song and the ability to tap dance is innate and casually expressed when we feel we’ve met ‘the one’.

Ok, so if I had to say one – let’s say negative thing (although I am not sure it is) – I would have to say that after watching La La Land, I seemed to identify all too well with Mia at the start, empathising with her frustrated attempts to further herself and her career, however only to be faced with the emptiness of my own life yet to find such fortune as Mia does. But of course this is the same sensation that we accept from all musicals – that feeling I talked about at the start of this piece – a heartening yet troubling sensation where reality blurs with the fantasy, where people speak in song and people describe though dance, it’s a familiar feeling but not one I myself am directly accustomed to. With this people either humour themselves and love, laugh and live with them or label musicals – a futile and unnecessary attempt at bettering reality. I however find myself between the dreamer and the realist – a musical such as this stirs in me something that is both fantasy but also very real, it motivates me, it encourages me to be creative, to be happy whilst also providing me with an escape route into the imaginary that I won’t find with any ordinary film.

I could go on and on and on about this piece of artistic genius but for those of you who do not agree with me and have actually continued reading this until the end are almost certainly tired of my rambles. For those of you who did enjoy this film then I hope I have satisfied. I just want to conclude that being able to make a film such as this has given me hope where I felt musicals had gone to die. The loveliness that is La La Land proves that the apparent takeover of modern media standardisation has not enslaved the hopes of musical making dreams. That there is some originality left in film making that does not rely on the predictability of a mass society but still stimulates creativity in us that can take hold of the joys of song and dance and continue to inject them into the modern world. This film is not just a simple revision of the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood musical, but combines the love of rhythm and jazz with the modern thrills of today, keeping musical film alive but with a twist of modernity. This, I conclude, is what sets itself apart from its fellow musical family and is why I choose to bask in its achievement.