Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh)

Thor has two problems to overcome. Director Branagh is successful at one of them. The first problem is half the film takes place in mythological Asgard, which is an ancient place, but very modern with all the latest streamlined architecture—think if Art Deco molded with neon, some magical stuff and then inexplicable horse-based transit. For a superhero movie, it asks a lot. One has to believe it. Branagh makes it work.

The second problem is less severe and, by the time it becomes clear, it’s sort of a non-issue. The New Mexico setting for the “on Earth” sequences is boring. There’s this fantastic ten foot tall metal monster thing and it all looks great, but it’s destroying a tiny desert town. It’d be a lot more fun to watch it destroy something bigger. But, by this time, the romance between Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman is going and the movie’s coasting. Plus, the exit from New Mexico’s a nice sequence.

The script’s assured, but again, the acting helps. Tom Hiddleston walks off with the movie as Hemsworth’s brother and antagonist. Idris Elba and Jaimie Alexander are also strong. Anthony Hopkins is fine (one wonders how much they spent making him look so young at times). Hemsworth is ideal in the lead. Portman is just doing the smart girlfriend role—and she has some problems—but she’s good overall.

Great score from Patrick Doyle. Nice composition from Branagh.

Thor’s a lot of fun; it escapes its inherent goofiness.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich and the Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Haris Zambarloukos; edited by Paul Rubell; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Stellan Skarsgard (Dr. Erik Selvig), Kat Dennings (Darcy), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (King Laufey), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Joshua Dallas (Fandral), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Rene Russo (Frigga), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and Anthony Hopkins (Odin).


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Hotel Chevalier (2007, Wes Anderson)

It’s wrong to call Hotel Chevalier Anderson’s best film. The end of the film is some of the best work he’s ever done and a lot of the writing is some of the best writing he’s ever done (alone). The dialogue in Chevalier cuts in a way similar to Hemingway (maybe the Paris setting implies it too). It’s fantastic dialogue.

And Chevalier even surmounts one enormous problem–Jason Schwartzman is nowhere near as good in the film as Natalie Portman. Some of it has to do with Anderson’s script–Portman’s character is, in her seven minutes of screen time, probably Anderson’s most developed female character. The idiosyncrasies Anderson fills his features with are present here… but mostly only for Portman. Schwartzman’s character is nowhere near as interesting.

Anderson even manages to make the story universal (even though a plot detail is Schwartzman’s wealth). It’s a stunning, beautiful piece of filmmaking.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Anderson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Vincent Marchand; released by Fox Searchlight.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Jack Whitman) and Natalie Portman (Jack’s girlfriend).


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Léon (1994, Luc Besson), the long version

When he’s doing good work, Luc Besson makes these transcendent films, but even some of his lesser works often have some moments with that quality.

Léon does not.

Many of the elements are there–but something’s off. Maybe it’s something simple, like Jean Reno is supposed to be playing an Italian immigrant who, apparently, just acts really French. Maybe it’s Gary Oldman’s histrionics. But, while both those things are definitely contributors to the film’s general failure, it’s mostly because Besson doesn’t really know what he’s doing with Natalie Portman.

If the film worked, it’d be a brilliant metaphor about her character’s transition into puberty… it’d be the Iron John for girls, only with guns.

And it’s never clear if Besson even realizes he had a real opportunity. One of the major problem’s with Besson’s films are how simplistic he gets when it comes to human emotions. In Léon, he tries hard to talk about emotions as much as possible. But it’s just talk.

Portman’s performance is excellent–so excellent she gave nearly identical performances a couple more times (Beautiful Girls and Heat)–but it should have been clear she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besson’s characters in Léon are some of his most shallow–quite an achievement since shallowly conceived characters are a Besson staple–but at least Reno and Oldman are somewhat supposed to be ciphers. Portman’s character isn’t, but all the exposition is ludicrous.

Léon‘s a really boring film without much value. But it is competently produced.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean Reno (Léon), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Danny Aiello (Tony), Peter Appel (Malky), Willi One Blood (1st Stansfield man), Don Creech (2nd Stansfield man), Keith A. Glascoe (3rd Stansfield man), Randolph Scott (4th Stansfield man), Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother), Elizabeth Regen (Mathilda’s Sister), Carl J. Matusovich (Mathilda’s Brother) and Frank Senger (Fatman).


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Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)

I hate responding to films like Black Swan because I don’t know where to start.

From the first sequence, Aronofsky defines his approach as singular. Except for that first sequence, he never tries to film a ballet. He’s always filming a ballet performance. But he manages, filming those performances, which he tends to shoot in long shot–approximately the audience’s view of the dancers–to make them the most exquisitely filmic ballet sequences I can remember having ever seen.

While ballet makes up a good portion of the film’s running time, it’s not necessarily a film about the ballet. Until the third act, Aronofsky is making one of the stranger character studies. We spend the entire film with Natalie Portman’s ballerina and I don’t think there’s a single expository conversation involving her. Aronofsky and screenwriters Heyman, Heinz and McLaughlin (given the importance of gender, it was a shock to discover three men wrote the film) offer infrequent insights into Portman’s character. Black Swan is a character study with very few people and a lot of “action” (the ballet scenes); the discovery is gradual.

Saying Portman’s performance here is her best work is misleading. Her previous work never suggested she was capable of such a performance.

Aronofsky holds her in these intense broken moments and brings in Clint Mansell’s beautiful, disturbing score and the film transcends.

Great supporting work from Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey.

I’ve been waiting nine years for Black Swan and I didn’t even know it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin, based on a story by Heinz; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Andrew Weisblum and Kristina Boden; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey (Erica Sayers), Winona Ryder (Beth Macintyre), Benjamin Millepied (David) and Ksenia Solo (Veronica).


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