Film review – Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016)

One of the most shocking moments of the 20th Century was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on 22nd November 1963. Driving along Dealy Plaza in the early afternoon, two shots were fired by a single assassin. The enduring image is that of his wife, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, as she scrambles to protect her husband, head in lap, striving to comprehend what had just happened to her. It was a tragedy.

Portman delivers a stunning performance

Central to Pablo Larraín’s biopic of Jackie Kennedy is a stunningly affecting performance from Natalie Portman. She’s capable of being both isolating and isolated within moments, in one of the most complex performances you could ever wish to take on as an actor. Portman doesn’t need to remind us of her capabilities, which we’ve known about since her debut as a 13-year-old in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional. 

The film is delivered in the form of Jackie Kennedy in an open interview to a nameless Time Magazine reporter (Billy Crudup). She reminisces about her television programme “Inside the White House with Mrs John F. Kennedy”, in which she effused about her collection of presidential memorabilia (as well as her abilities as an interior designer) though the story predominantly focuses on the fateful day in Dallas and the immediate aftermath as she reinvents herself as the director of her husband’s funeral, an event she hopes will rival – or at least evoke the memory of – Abraham Lincoln.

There are some solid supporting roles from the likes of Richard E. Grant, Peter Sarsgaard and the late John Hurt. Greta Gerwig also appears, though I can’t say she is in the same category.

One jarring aspect of the film is the unusual score, provided by the usually brilliant Mica Levi. It’s surprisingly sinister and usually doesn’t match the onscreen visuals, tonally or stylistically. This isn’t Levi’s fault. She’s just doing what she does best (see Under the Skin for her best scoring work). It’s jarring and made me long for something a little more conforming. I’m amazed that it has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score.

Portman, though, is very much deserving of her nomination. It’s a strong year of competition, but she has every chance of taking home her second statue at the 89th Academy Awards.

A must see.

New Rogue One poster and trailer!

Last night, The Star Wars Show revealed a brand new Rogue One poster that may well be the best one yet.

Latest Rogue One poster!!

The ominous inclusion of a foreboding looking Darth Vader is a welcome inclusion. The features underneath the logo of the Shoretroopers walking through the ocean (filmed in The Maldives) will please those wanting something new, whilst fans of the original series will note the Tie Fighters and AT-ATs.

The trailer will drop later this morning. Stay tuned for more info!

Film review – 偽りの隣人 / Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest release Creepy received its U.K. premiere tonight as part of the London Film Festival. It blends elements of police drama, suspense and mild horror to create an intriguing film that achieves much but ultimately falls down due to a lack of ruthlessness in editing that would have helped the pacing.

Set in approximately 2009, it tells the story of a retired policeman Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who has changed careers to work as a criminology professor at a local university. Having moved to a new part of town with his wife Yasuko (Yūko Takeuchi) and dog Max, they begin to become suspicious of the titular creepy neighbour Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) and his daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino), whilst Takakura attempts to solve an old case that has come out of the woodwork.

Creepy Nishino

The casting of the genuinely creepy Kagawa is a solid choice. Director Kurosawa is on familiar ground, having worked with him on 2009’s Tokyo Sonata, though this role is very much a departure from the jobless family man we saw previously. When the results are this good there’s no need to change.

Kurosawa, working again with cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa, achieves a lot with natural lighting to create darkness for the lead characters as they delve into their inner-most thoughts. This was an effective technique used previously by the pair in Journey To The Shore and is mined more subtly here to arguably better effect, especially in one particular witness interrogation scene.

However, there are flaws. The ending could genuinely have happened about twenty minutes prior to when it finally occurs, and when the story is finally resolved the relief I felt wasn’t for any of the particular characters but more for the fact it signalled the end was in sight. It’s unfortunate that the ending is so shocking and powerful with some great acting that was undermined by the preceding needless plot extension.

There were a few ideas throughout the film that seemed to fizzle out. Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi) was really prominent for a good portion of the film but was clumsily written out before the resolution of her storyline; her family went missing but she doesn’t seem to care why in the end. A police chief is written into the key part of the story to get Takakura out of a dead end in the plot. There’s a mind control element to the story that isn’t ever fully explained, instead expecting the viewer to just go with it. 

After a long setup, this film is genuinely exhilarating for about an hour. With a shorter ending and a little more clarity, it could have been much better than the final result. For me, it is a missed opportunity.

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, 2015)

The 2015 BFI London Film Festival came to a close this evening with the European Premiere of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs. With all the stars out on the red carpet, it had all the hallmarks of a blockbuster finale on the scale of any of the Apple product launches we’ve become so accustomed to.

The biopic plays out in three distinct acts, all during iconic Jobs-headed product launches: the 1984 launch of the first Macintosh home computer; the 1988 launch of the NeXT Computer for NeXT Inc. (the company Jobs set up after being forced out of Apple); and ending with the 1998 launch of the first iMac computer.

Jobs worth

Jobs worth

Whilst it may risk being a big advert for Apple, the poor picture painted of the figurehead of the company throughout ensures that is never the case. The Steve Jobs we get to know over the course of the three acts, which play out in real time in the lead up to each of the presentations Jobs is giving, is narcissistic and self-centred, only relenting from the power trip when he finally achieves the success he has been driving for. It shows softer sides of his personality and attempts to justify his unique traits but the focus on his tempestuous relationship with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan and their child Lisa ensures his best side is never seen.

It is actually a difficult watch throughout. It is basically two hours of arguments, eventually becoming tiring. It does successfully portray the frantic and intense atmosphere of a huge-scale product launch in a very real manner. It fails, however, to convince that this is a good platform for great cinema.

Michael Fassbender plays the Steve Jobs we see here to perfection, capturing the nuances required of someone who is heartless to the extent of being cruel. Kate Winslet’s turn as Joanna Hoffman is steadier than her accent, and Seth Roger puts in an adequate performance as Steve Wozniak. The standout performance is quite minor but nontheless critical: Michael Stuhbarg is exceptional as the bullied inventor Andy Hertzfield.

The biggest success is the genius move to film the picture on era-appropriate equipment. The three scenes were each filmed using totally different techniques: 1984 was captured on beautiful 16mm film, 1988 on 35mm film and 1998 on digital film. The evolution of technology is reflected in the format change and portrays each era in a manner that would have been impossible with digital post-production.

Whilst it isn’t a let down, it will be difficult to find a sustainable market for this film. It’s not a straight biopic, it isn’t hugely in favour of Apple, nor is it against it. It’s a struggle to watch and is unlikely to have people raving about its successes as they leave the cinema. 

It could be Danny Boyle’s Newton moment.

Steve Jobs is released in cinemas in the UK in November.

Further Viewing

If you enjoyed the film so much you’re interested in some further viewing, then check out the below videos. In the film you see the 40 minutes building up to the release of three products, but never get to see the keynotes themselves.

1984 – Original Macintosh home computer

The original keynote:

The Superbowl “1984” advert:

1988 – NeXT

The 1988 keynote speech isn’t available on YouTube, but this ABC news segment is a close fit:

1998 – iMac

The full video in all its glory:

New The Force Awakens poster

The new poster for The Force Awakens has dropped. It is absolutely gorgeous and will no doubt further increase the interest in fans throughout the world, myself included.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow morning so don’t miss out. A new trailer is also expected in the evening in the USA, though there are no confirmed times in the UK.

The big question is… Where’s Luke?!

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines; Or, How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes (Ken Annakin, 1965)

On 14th July 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 spaceship performed the first flyby of Mars, returning the first ever pictures of another planet and providing Earth with closeup observations of the surface. It was a time where the world was gripped by the space race, seeing two world powers at loggerheads to prove their technological superiority.

Just one month earlier, Ken Annakin’s epic ensemble comedy Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines hit cinemas globally. A homage to the beginnings of manned flight, the story follows fourteen pilots in brilliant replicas of 1910 aircraft as they attempt to fly from London to Paris (via Dover) to win a £10,000 prize put up by Lord Rawnsley (Robert Mawley), a British newspaper magnate. Mixing madcap humour with a loving recreation of the excitement once felt by the world for the flying machines now seen as highly primative, the film not only captured the essence of 1910 but also the imagination of the 1965 cinema-going public.

One of the main threads that runs throughout the film is the love triangle between the magnate’s daughter Patricia Rawnsley (Sarah Miles), her fiancé Richard Mays (James Fox) and rugged American Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman), the latter two of which are also competing in the race. This thread serves as a springboard for a small amount of humour but allows the bigger laughs to be built around this central plot.

Many of the other characters conform to the national stereotypes: the Prussian Colonel Manfred von Holstein (Gert Fröbe, fresh from his titular role as bond villain Goldfinger) can’t do anything without a set of instructions; French womaniser Pierre Dubois (Jean Pierre Cassel) spends the whole film flirting with identical women (all played by Irena Demick) from different European countries in one of the film’s best running gags; Yamamoto (Japanese megastar Yujiro Ishihara) is a well-spoken Japanese naval officer who all the competitors fear will easily win the race. Elsewhere there are rewarding cameos from Tony Hancock, Benny Hill and Eric Sykes.

The main theme tune contains a highly infectious melody that has remained in the public conscience far beyond the popularity of the film itself. Ron Goodwin’s music is introduced alongside a humorous caricatured animation provided by Ronald Searle and it serves as the perfect introduction to the film. Beware – it gets stuck in your head and will refuse to leave for days.

There's a hint of Wacky Races throughout.

There’s a hint of Wacky Races throughout.

Whilst the concept behind Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines closely follows It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – released two years earlier in 1963 – to dismiss it as a carbon copy is to do it a disservice. There’s more on offer here than a simple rehash.

It also spawned a sequel that would be more easily associated to this film but for the fact its name was changed for most releases from Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies to Monte Carlo or Bust. That film has a nearly identical premise, with many reprised roles, but is set around cars rather than planes.

There’s plenty on offer here to warrant a first viewing and those that grew up with it won’t be disappointed by revisiting it.

Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines is available to buy now from Amazon on extortionate Blu-ray or DVD.

[Note] Huge thanks to Ahoy Small Fry for the recommendation on this!