Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

NETFLIX: Annihilation – future cult classic or subpar sci-fi?

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries some kind of alien mineral, and it ain’t Vibranium. It smashes into a lighthouse: the invasion of planet Earth has begun.

Ground Zero is covered by an iridescent dome – like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. They call it ‘the Shimmer’. Inside, communications fail, and those who enter don’t return. The government are keeping it top secret, but not for long; the phenomenon is expanding, and will eventually swallow up whole cities and states…

‘Annihilation’ started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘weird fiction’ Southern Reach trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the unknown Area X. (A fifth turns back.) One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

In Alex Garland’s adaptation, the biologist – now Lena – is played by a characteristically poised, brittle Natalie Portman as an ex-military John Hopkins professor. Flashbacks reveal her cheating on her angelic-looking husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) with Daniel (Interstellar’s David Gyasi).

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence, AKA aging, to Kane. They playfully argue over whether God can make mistakes, and discuss the unusual ‘silence’ around Kane’s deployment. Kane tenderly says they will be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband.

Kane goes MIA but materializes a year later at their home, clearly unwell. The couple are ambushed and held in a facility where Lena meets creepy wierdo Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who explains that Kane volunteered for and escaped the Shimmer, but is now in multi-organ failure.

With Oscar Isaac on a ventilator, a guilt-wracked Lena joins Ventress on the next Shimmer trip. The rest of the team are all damaged in different ways: an unkempt Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is recovering addict Anya, while geologist Cass is a grieving mother. “We’re all damaged goods here,” she explains.

Inside the Shimmer, radio waves are scrambled and time is distorted. Flowers twist into the human form, deer have tree branches, and alligators have shark teeth.

“The Shimmer is a prism, but it refracts everything,” realizes Josie, meaning DNA gets reshuffled and recombined. When Cass is killed by a mutant bear, its jaws open and her voice screams for help. Josie doesn’t want terror to be her surviving fragment; shoots and buds are already pushing out of her self-harm scars, and she walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest.

For most, the thought of being broken down and incorporated into this new ecosystem would be grotesque. Ventress rages that it feels like the onset of dementia. Lena realizes that Ventress was already dying and is resigned to her fate, but wants to face the alien entity while still herself.

So is Annihilation about how we accept the inevitable? Some viewers saw it as a movie about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt. To others it’s a searing depiction of depression, or all about Pokémon. Garland, meanwhile, said he was actually going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

annihilation swimming pool

F U Humanity!!

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. And although Lena believes the organism doesn’t ‘want’ anything, it’s hard not to take it personally; there’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool and the artfully arranged skeletons that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Despite the triumph of Ex Machina, Paramount had little faith in Annihilation; international rights went to Netflix. American audiences – who had the benefit of experiencing this admittedly visually and aurally accomplished movie on a cinema screen – only gave it a ‘C’ CinemaScore.

Maybe it’s because of the incoherent narrative. Some claim to enjoy the fact that it “doesn’t give us all the answers”. Others might point to the umpteen articles ‘unpacking’ the movie as a sign that it falls back on making audiences feel stupid for finding it all a bit of a muddle.

REVIEW: Incredible Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in a 90 minute horror

Who in their right mind would want to live in the White House?

In Pablo Larraín’s heady and unsettling look at the days following the assassination of JFK, life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for widow Jackie is more claustrophobic horror than corridors of power.

(It’s no coincidence that it’s reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining – Larraín is a huge Kubrick fan, with some of the shots a deliberate homage to the filmmaker.)

A three-hander starring Natalie Portman, a score by Mica Levy (Under the Skin) and a gore-spattered pink Chanel suit, Larraín has rejected a cradle-to-the-grave biopic formula in favour of the experimental snapshot.

There’s a basic framework in the form of an interview Jackie gave to a journalist (Billy Crudup) a week after the assassination. The film jumps back and forth between roughly three timelines – the interview, Jackie’s infamous 1962 televised tour of the White House, and her husband’s funeral.

Leading up to the movie’s release, critics were hailing Portman’s performance as Oscar-worthy, yet clips from the movie revealing her distracting baby voice sounded absurd, no matter how ‘accurate’ it was supposed to be.

And for the first few scenes I was aghast. It’s a spot-on impersonation, albeit in a ludicrous, spoof kind of way. Even Larraín admitted he initially thought Portman’s accent was “too much.”  If this had been a more conventional picture, (imagine a ten-part Netflix series entitled Camelot) it might have been disastrous.

When Claire Foy was asked about getting the young Queen Elizabeth’s cut-glass 1950s accent right for The Crown, she said it would sound so alien today, they went with a “modulated” version instead.

Perhaps Portman could have tried a similar approach, but a strange thing happens once Jackie’s bubble has encircled the viewer; the diabolical lead performance almost becomes a grotesque strand in Levi’s discordant score. The actress is terrific in this crazy, mannered straitjacket, every gesture and inflection both significant and strange, her only false note the row with brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard).

Portman and Kennedy aren’t a great physical match, but even that works – the tiny, frail figure of Portman swallowed up by shock and grief. She looks like a little girl lost clopping about in Kennedy’s heels and bouffant hair, like she raided the dressing-up box.

She’s not entirely fragile – she’s vicious as she wrong foots Crudup’s unnamed journalist. “Don’t think fer a secahnd I’m going to leht you pwint thaht,” she lisps.

This is Jackie crafting her husband’s legacy. It’s the gulf between her public persona (style icon, embodiment of the American Blue Blood) and her private persona. She mentions her miscarriages over and over; the conversations with the priest (John Hurt) stuck with me, as did the scene of the (now former) First Lady removing her blood-stained hosiery and scrubbing the brain matter from her nails.

Verdict: I have a newfound appreciation for the brittle talents of Natalie Portman. Jackie is like shattered glass. Best of all, it’s only 90 minutes. Go see!

Lx

Jackie Portman

Jackie: Natalie Portman lines up another Oscar?

I thought, after Black Swan, that now Natalie Portman had her Academy Award, she’d switch to the business side of movies. Maybe she’d semi-retire and concentrate on her family.

In the six years since her Oscar triumph, Portman became a mother to a baby son; gave a lacklustre turn as Thor‘s love interest; moved to Paris with her French husband; had a go at producing, writing and directing.

When photos of her as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy were released, I rolled my eyes, expecting her only to live down to Katie Holmes’ panned portrayal in the eight-part miniseries The Kennedys.

However, at its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Jackie really got the critics buzzing. Chilean director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim are being praised for their bold approach, but it is Portman who really wowed the festival crowds.

So how come a clip on Youtube has got some people puzzled…This performance?

This is the performance that The Hollywood Reporter called a “tour-de-force”? That led Variety to proclaim “you can’t take your eyes off of her”?

It’s not fair to judge on one short scene, but this sounds like a painful turn from Portman, like she is working so hard to imitate Kennedy’s docile speaking voice it dominates her performance.

Critics (who have seen the whole thing) are enamoured with the movie and with Portman, but they also seem desperate to defend her mannered performance style.

“When Portman speaks in that demure New England dialect, she tends to come off too mannered. With every dropped “R,” it becomes obvious Portman is trying very, very hard to be someone she’s not,” said US Weekly, while praising her screen presence and ability to carry the movie.

“At first, Portman seems distracting in the role, the accent catching in her throat, her every line and mannerism coming across as studied. But that affected quality is all part of the strategy of Jackie,” wrote A.A Down at The AV Club.

“Portman’s highly affected performance is deliberately off-putting at first…Portman’s never been one to disappear into her roles, but here that’s a strength. The fact that she always feels like she’s acting lends the character a tragic dimension,” said a BBC Culture review out of TIFF.

Which reads as: “So although she is mannered and it’s obvious this is Portman ACTING, it works in the context of the film because….because we’re all so in love with her OK?…..My lord THAT FACE!”

Portman is probably tied at the moment with La La Land‘s Emma Stone as early front-runner for Best Actress, in what is shaping up to be a really competitive year.

I don’t have a particular dislike for Portman, but while the public worship her as a Harvard-educated Serious Actress, she has a career strewn with dodgy accents and critical ambivalence. It’s Leon – Closer – Black Swan – basically the only times she’s ever been good, and that’s to the credit of her directors.

This is the woman Time magazine said can “look utterly stranded on screen — bereft of an actor’s most rudimentary tools…”

Jackie has a December release lined up in the USA. No word on a UK release yet, but I’ll be sure to give the movie a fair go.