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DVD Review: Jackie

Jackie

Natalie Portman showcases a deep personal angle of Jackie Kennedy in Jackie most of us never saw.

At first I wasn’t too interested in seeing Jackie. I mean there have already been enough made-for-TV movies of JFK and Jackie Kennedy. The film would not only have to justify being made but also its big-screen release.

The film begins with a journalist interviewing Jackie Kennedy in her home just days after JFK’s assassination. It’s like one minute she’s the First Lady living in the White House and the next, she’s a young widowed mother living in a private home miles away. The journalist begins with small talk but the questions move to the assassination and the aftermath.

It is from that point the film flashes back to various moments. Moments when Jackie and John attended Camelot: a musical JFK was captivated by. Moments like Jackie right after the shooting cleaning the blood off her clothes. Moments like being comforted by Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, and White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman whom Jackie would later confide in. Moments like making funeral plans. Moments like her dealing with the priest and her questioning her faith more than ever.

It’s moments like those where Jackie feels more lost than ever as a person. It’s moments like these where Jackie wonders what to leave as a legacy for her husband. It’s during that time she uncovers truths many tried to hide from her, but she knew. It’s also moments when Jackie learns to be strong on the inside. In the end, she regains her faith while talking to the priest. In the end, she makes the final decisions on her husband’s funeral. In the end, she chooses to have her husband’s legacy remembered as ‘Camelot.’

Now keep in mind when this film came out, I was not too interested in seeing it. I mean the role of Jackie Kennedy has been included in too many made-for-TV film. When I saw this film about to be released, I was thinking “This film had better justify its big screen format.” This is not just simply a film that’s a biography. This film focuses on Jackie not even during ten days of her life. This is one of the most critical times of her life as she went from being Jackie Kennedy to a widow in an instant. Many of us know a lot of Jackie Kennedy, but this film presents an angle of Jackie Kennedy few of us knew. The smile and happy charm of Jackie Kennedy we are all familiar with is now replaced with a Jackie Kennedy that is hurting inside. She feels like she’s nothing without JFK. Her faith both in God and in the magic of Camelot has been challenged to more than what she can handle. She even feels like she’s worthless as a mother to her children. That was Jackie right after JFK died. That was Jackie those many days later dealing with the journalist.

We also see another angle to Jackie. This film goes through scenes happening in various moments of time in Jackie’s life. We see some scenes when JFK was still alive but most scenes are various times after his assassination. With those scenes, we see the different aspect of Jackie few knew. We have always known Jackie Kennedy the First Lady to be charming, charismatic, sweet and outgoing. Here in the film, we notice that Jackie is not the prissy, naive Jackie as most of us thought she was. She knew of her husband’s infidelity. She knew of Wanted For Treason posters published by dissenters days before his assassination. She did have concern about tax dollar use for her husband’s funeral. She even considered her publicity an interference: “I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy.” She even questioned her faith with the priest. These are all aspects most never knew of Jackie Kennedy. However the film also shows Jackie as a person who doesn’t lose faith in the things she believes in. Despite going through the hardest moment of her life, she still finds the inner strength to keep her faith in God and to believe in the power of books and theatre. “I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us.” That would take a lot for someone to still believe in especially after what happened.

This is an excellent breakthrough film for Pablo Llarain. This is his first English-language feature and he does a very good job in directing the story and scenes. Also done well is the script from writer Noah Oppenhein. He’s most famous as the scriptwriter for The Maze Runner. Jackie is a big change of pace for him. It’s very common nowadays to do films of a certain famous person and have it focus on a certain brief period of their life instead of the common biography-style film you’d expect. It’s done many times in films like The Queen, Capote and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. It’s also a difficult challenge because in doing so, they have to construct a story that looks like it sums up the protagonists lifetime in that brief period of time. Oppenheim succeeded in constructing a very 3D Jackie Kennedy in that brief period of her life.

It’s not just Oppenheim’s story of Jackie that worked well but also the performance of Natalie Portman. At first, I was skeptical of the idea of having Portman play Jackie Kennedy. She did not come as the type of personality to play her at first. However Portman did an excellent job in her portrayal of Natalie and portraying the personal traits and feeling of Jackie in the scenes of the story. The film also shows an excellent maturity in the acting of Natalie Portman. Sometimes we forget she was 35 when she was filming this film and Jackie Kennedy was 34 when this incident happened. This film shows Natalie’s acting maturity very well. For all intents and purposes, Jackie Kennedy was the role with the most depth and range in the film. Nevertheless there were supporting performances that delivered well despite their limited range, like Peter Saarsgard and Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman. The costuming from Madeline Fontaine and the music from Mica Levi also added to the quality of the film.

Jackie did justify its big screen format in the end. It’s an excellent film about carrying grace under such devastating heartbreak and reminded us why we admire Jackie Kennedy so much.

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Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is a recreation of a moment of recent history. It’s as much about the man involved in this moment as the moment itself.

Richard Phillips is a captain of freighter ships who lives in Vermont but pilots his freighter ships mostly in the Arabian Sea. One day in April 2009, he’s assigned to be a captain of a freighter bringing relief supplies from Oman to Mombasa, Kenya. He accepts the duty but is well aware of the risk of pirates from Somalia once he sails around the horn of Africa. Meanwhile in Somalia, a group of pirate leaders recruit young men for their next sting. It could be big, it could be small, it’s all in a day’s work.

Captain Phillips is sailing the freighter Maersk Alabama through the Arabian Sea. He’s also taking all precautions to prevent a pirate attack including getting the ship to participate in a drill. The pirates are hungry not just for a simple ship but bigger stuff. Their small rusty motor boats, or skiffs, have ship radar. They see the Maersk Alabama within their view and they chase after it. Fortunately Captain Phillips and the crew are prepared. The first day, the pirates’ motor blows on their boat. Captain Phillips and the crew think the have it solved. What they don’t know is that the pirates are fixing the motor in the boat overnight.

The next day the pirates try again. Captain Phillips and the crew again take precautions like using the hose system to prevent them from coming on board. The pirates notice an area where a hose isn’t working. Perfect opportunity to climb aboard the ship and hold the crew hostage. It’s there where pirate Muse and Captain Phillips meet eye to eye. Phillips tries to get them to leave by offering $30,000 but they want more: millions. The ship is able to shut the power down and able to make the pirates fail in their attempt. However the US forces have received word and have arrived. They try to negotiate with Muse only the have the pirates get away in a lifeboat with Captain Phillips as hostage. They hope Phillips will be their ticket for ransom.

That night the lifeboat is surrounded by navy ships and the crew is too frustrated and start turning on each other. Muse is stubborn with Phillips feeling he can’t go after going this far. The end scene adds to the intensity as it shows the whole standoff between the pirates, the Navy and the SEAL team. You’d be surprised to see how close Phillips was to being executed by the pirates. And even after you think it’s over, it’s not.

The most remarkable thing about the movie is that this is one that really depicts pirates for the negative people that they are. Admit it. We’ve all been charmed by pirate stories: Captain Hook, Captain Kidd, Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard, you get the idea. Even the popular lines like: “Arrrrgh Matey;” “Shiver me timbers” and “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!” show how charmed we are with them. However the news about Somali pirates have given us a reality check about pirates and what they do. This film even shows pirate really are: dirty, merciless thieves who threaten people on ships for their riches.

Another remarkable aspect the movie shows us is the sheer determination of those four pirates. You’d think that a group of four young Somali pirates not even 21 would not stand a chance against a huge freighter like the Maersk Alabama with all their devices and a prepared captain. However they were stubborn enough to fix a motor overnight, find a dry gap in the ship’s hosings, use a ladder to get to the deck, try a getaway with a lifeboat and even resist arrest with the US Armed Forces. The film is very focal on the pirates’ determination and their false sense of invincibility. It even shows how sometimes small has a competitive advantage over the big guy. It’s like that way in the animal kingdom too where insects can find their way into large prey.

Just as much as it focuses on the Somali pirates and their determination, it also focuses on Captain Rich Phillips himself. It especially focuses on Rich’s smarts as he knows about Somali pirates before the attack and even prepares his crew just in case, his smarts when he’s under attack on board and his smarts during the attempted getaway. Even the assault by the navy and the aftermath had Rich Phillips in focus. It was as much about Richard Phillips as it was about the pirates.

Tom Hanks once again delivered a remarkable performance: his best since Cast Away. It’s great to see him perform well in a movie that’s the least Hollywood-like I’ve seen him in. His performance really had a lot of range and was as much about Captain Phillips the person as it was about Captain Phillips the hostage. Equally as spectacular is the direction of Paul Greengrass. Actually It shouldn’t be that Greengrass, who made a name for himself with United 93 about a 9/11 terrorist operation botched by vigilante passengers, directs it. It’s like the film reminds us that the pirates of the seas are like the terrorists on airlines. Always were. Billy Ray did an excellent job of scriptwriting. Surprising that the writer of The Hunger Games is the scriptwriter here.

It’s not to say the movie’s all Tom Hanks, Paul Greengrass and Billy Ray. Barkhad Abdi was also excellent as pirate Muse. He makes Muse look like a pirate who didn’t have much of a clue to what he got himself into. Barkhad Abdirahman was also great as the vicious pirate Bilal who possessed a false sense of invincibility. The emsemble of lesser-known American actors added to the quality of the film. The only other well-known actor in the film is Catherine Keener. Actually it’s surprising to see the role of Andrea Phillips, Captain Phillips’ wife, as such a small role. The music of Henry Jackman and the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd also added to the quality of the film.

Captain Phillips is an excellent recreation of a moment in recent history that’s both about the moment and the man involved. Both Hanks and Greengrass do it again.

Movie Review: Some Like It Hot (1959)

Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe put on an unforgettable show in Some Like It Hot.

Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe put on an unforgettable show in Some Like It Hot.

The AFI (American Film Institute) ranks Some Like It Hot as the best comedy of the 20th Century. No doubt it’s one of the most legendary comedies ever made. The question is does it still have what it takes to entertain people today?

Here’s a brief synopsis for those who’ve never seen it. It’s 1929 in Chicago. Joe and Jerry are musicians by day, bootlegging gangsters by night. They face themselves in a lot of trouble first with a rival mob for being in the crossfire of the St. Valentine’s massacre and secondly for the money Joe owes thanks to losing it on gambling. Their talent agent finds them a job to help them get away from the mob racket and make the money. There’s one catch. It’s with an all-girls band–Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators—and they’re heading to Miami. They accept and agree to pose as women: Josephine and Daphne.

The beginning is not the best. As they board the train to Miami, they meet Bienstock, their manager who is one to give band members a cheap feel. However they do meet band member Sugar Kane who likes to take a drink every now and then and takes a liking to the two women-in-disguise. They soon start a good friendship after Sugar accidentally drops her liquor flask and the two try to cover it up to bandleader Sweet Sue.

Sugar confesses to the two on the train trip how she’s interested in millionaires. However they can’t make passes at her because they know they have to keep their disguises as women. Once in Miami, Joe disguises himself as a millionaire named Junior to woo Sugar: heir to Shell Oil who has a problem with his ‘disinterest’ in women. However Jerry faces a pursuit of his own as an aging millionaire Osgood Fielding III takes an interest in Daphne.

One night Osgood invites Daphne for dinner on his yacht. Joe convinces Daphne to keep Osgood occupied onshore so that he can take Sugar to the yacht as Junior and pass it off as his. Once on the yacht, Junior tries to convince Sugar that he is impotent because of psychological traumas. He does say he’ll marry anyone who changes that. Sugar tries to arouse him and it’s after some amount of effort that she succeeds. Meanwhile Daphne’s very good at charming Osgood as the two tango all night.

It’s right as Jerry tells the good news to Joe– that Osgood has proposed to him and a divorce upon the truth will result in a huge cash settlement–that they learn the charade has to end. Spats and his gang of mobsters from Chicago are in the hotel for a ‘Friends of The Italian Opera’ conference and they have to quit the band and escape the hotel. This also means that Joe has to disguise himself as Junior again and break off the engagement to Sugar. He succeeds by telling her he has to marry a woman of his father’s choosing but it breaks her heart.

But it doesn’t end there. The two finds themselves in pursuit of the mobsters from the Valentine’s Day killings. It’s right after a revenge shooting at the conference that the two find themselves in pursuit again by Spats and his gang. Even their disguises as dames won’t help them get away for long. They face an additional problem as Joe notices on stage how brokenhearted Sugar is. It’s there that Joe has to tell Sugar the truth and kisses her in his Josephine guise.

Soon Sugar, Joe and Jerry have to leave in a getaway boat for Osgood’s yacht. They all find the boat in time but not before a drunken Osgood runs out. It’s right in the end with all four in the motorboat that all the truths come out, but with unexpected results.

As I pointed out at the beginning, Some Like It Hot has received renown since its release and over the years as both a film and as a comedy. There’s always the question of whether today’s moviegoers will understand the films significance or its comedic value. There’s no question that people of today would still find men dressing as women funny. Heck, the ‘S*** Girls Say’ videos are a hit partially because of it. However we’re at a time where we’re not that unfamiliar with drag queen shows and men dressing up as women. We may not be blasé but we wouldn’t be as shocked as say a crowd from back in 1959 would be upon seeing this. Even the sight of two women kissing would be less shocking to us. Humorous but not so shocking.

We shouldn’t forget that this was released during a different time. A Streetcar Named Desire caused some controversy because of its depiction of promiscuity and a failing marriage. Rebel Without A Cause raised eyebrows with its portrayal of teenage crime. And Blackboard Jungle was being labeled as ‘outrageously violent.’ All these movies would be considered tame by today’s standards. It just goes to show how far we’ve come.

Even Marilyn Monroe’s sex appeal comes into question. By now we’ve had all sorts of screen actresses who have had their own shots at achieving sex appeal with male moviegoers. By now the top screen queens would be Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox. Most males who are charmed by them would probably have a look at Marilyn and probably think she’s not as ‘babe-like.’ They may also think she “doesn’t show enough skin.” Heck some might even think she’s ‘fat.’ It wouldn’t surprise me, knowing today’s casting standards in Hollywood. Anyways those who know the screen goddesses of the past would know Marilyn was about more than her looks. She was also about her charm and charisma. That’s something today’s top screen queens lack.

The one thing that surprises me about Some Like It Hot is that it has cross-dressing during a time when Hollywood movies were still subject to the Hays Code. For those of you who don’t know or are too lazy to click on the link, the Hays Code was a rigid code used on movies and television up until 1966. It allowed for certain things to be in the movies but disallowed a lot of things too like an image of a toilet bowl or negative depictions or religious figures or certain things about sexuality. Even while watching it, I was thinking of the Code that was used at the time and wondered about certain scenes—the kiss between Sugar and Josephine and the “Well nobody’s perfect” scene—that left me wondering how they were able to get away with it at the time. Actually back then it did receive some flack from the Catholic Legion Of Decency who gave it a C (Condemnatory) rating. They’d also give Psycho a C rating the following year. Soon after other later films followed with a C-rating, it would lead to an overhaul and eventual end to the Hays Code in the 60’s. You have to give credit to some of these movies of the 50’s for pushing envelopes at the time and eliminating a lot of censorship in Hollywood in future decades. Mind you I don’t see why ‘decency committees’ should have a problem with cross-dressing. Besides we shouldn’t forget that Milton Berle dressed up as a woman on TV frequently during that time.

This is another winning movie for Billy Wilder. Billy is sometimes known for darker movies but rarely for comedies. This is probably his best comedic effort. Not his first but his best. He really took some challenges in making this film but he pulled it off well. This was also very good acting from both Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Their performances were very humorous and it was amazing to see Jack, or should I say Jerry, instantly get into character as Daphne. Marilyn was also good but we shouldn’t forget that in this, like most movies, she was encouraged to play the movie sex goddess we all know her for. She pulled off her part very well. It’s still surprising how Marilyn is the biggest actress never to have even received as much as an Oscar nomination. Character acting from the supporting actors was also very good and added to the movie. The big surprise is that costuming was done by Orry-Kelly. Usually in the movies at the time, especially in Billy Wilder’s movies, it would be Edith Head who would do the costuming back then. Yeah, there were two types of costumers back in Hollywood back then. There was Edith Head and then there was everybody else.

Also interesting to see all the accolades this movie has received over the years. Besides being ranked the #1 Comedy by the AFI, the movie has been ranked #14 on their list of the Top 100 movies of all time back in 1998, then changed to #22 in their 10th Anniversary list in 2007. The line of “Well nobody’s perfect” ranks as the 48th-best movie line in their 100 Years…100 Lines list. In fact “nobody’s perfect” is even on Wilder’s epitaph. However it was not as lucky back at the year-end Oscars. That year the big toast of Hollywood was Ben Hur which would receive 12 nominations and 11 wins including Best Picture. The big surprise is that Some Like It Hot was not even nominated for Best Picture. Nominations did go to Wilder for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Lemmon was the only nominated actor with his Best Actor nomination. The only Oscar win was for Orry-Kelly for Best Costuming – Black and White who even beat out Edith Head. Some Like It Hot did fare better at the Golden Globes for wins for Lemmon, Monroe and Best Picture – Musical Or Comedy.

Some Like It Hot is a cutting edge comedy of its time in which most of today’s film goers who go to see it might not understand why it’s labeled the “Best Hollywood Comedy Of All Time,” especially since they’ve seen more shocking and more outrageous stuff. People who appreciate old movies and know the history of Hollywood film making will understand why and appreciate for such. For me, it was my first time seeing it and I was entertained.