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Recent Movies: Jackie; Hacksaw Ridge; Julieta

February 4, 2017

Recent Movies

Jackie

Based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman), this film portrays her response after the 1963 assassination of her husband John via an interview for Life magazine and flashbacks.

The movie’s first half is superb. The re-enactment of the most remembered moments during that period are chilling and even frightening in their authenticity. Portman (who is consistently solid throughout the film) is moving during an emotional outburst during the interview.

The second half is still good though less strong than the first. There are too many timelines happening simultaneously. While this is never confusing, this approach prevents the viewer from getting emotionally involved in what is happening. As soon as things build up, we are switched to another timeline. Among the more moving scenes in this half are those where Kennedy expresses a loss in faith with her priest.

While Portman is always riveting as the main character (she even impersonates Kennedy’s voice), the film spends too much time on her and her alone. A little more exposure of other characters might have added some necessary variety. One such character is Rose Kennedy, JFK’s mother. At the time of the tragedy, Rose would have been experiencing the enormous grief of outliving a child for the third time (she would experience it again five years later). In “Jackie”, she is seen only briefly as a mother-in-law with conflicting views of John’s burial. More depth could have been explored here.

Indeed, “Jackie” has its flaws but they are thankfully outnumbered by its riches. Director Pablo Larrain succeeds in creating a somber mood throughout the film aided by the haunting music of Mica Levi.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *


Hacksaw Ridge

Based on a true story: Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) was an American pacifist who served as an unarmed medic on the battlefields during World War II. The film tells of his struggle to serve as he wanted to and his very unusual status as a war hero.

Doss’s story as a conscientious objector is very unusual. In most cases, this situation was used to avoid military service entirely. In Doss’ case, he truly wanted to serve but without holding or using a weapon. The uniqueness of this story goes further in the rare situation of a main character being ostracized due to faith (Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist) and principle. The story is further enhanced in its exploration of World War I veterans (here displayed by Desmond’s father) who remain bitter from their war experiences and can’t stand the idea of their sons going through the same hell.

Garfield does a fine job in displaying the naïveté and innocence of a rural Virginia boy with ideals that seem hopeless at first but who truly knows better by the end. Other stand-out performances include those of Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s troubled father and Vince Vaughan as an over-the-top drill sergeant who’s rather funny with his insults.

The battle scenes in Okinawa, Japan are very well orchestrated by director Mel Gibson. But sadly, these scenes are so long and frequent that their horror can end up numbing the audience who are well aware of the accuracy of such a tragic part of history – not only for that war but those that followed and those happening now.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is a fine war film with a very different twist on the meaning of heroism.

RATING: * * *


Julieta

Based on three short stories in “Runaway” by Alice Munro: the title character is a resident of Madrid who is suddenly re-stimulated by the pain of having been estranged by her young adult daughter many years ago. In flashback, the viewer is brought to an earlier time when Julieta meets her daughter’s father and the events that happened later. In the current time, Julieta is played by Emma Suarez; in the earlier flashbacks, she is played by Adriana Ugarte.

As directed by Pedro Almodovar, this movie is touching in ways that are mysterious, sensuous, and passionate. It pays off like so many other beautiful and exotic European films of the past. With beautiful locations that include Madrid, the Galician coast, and the Pyrenees countryside (and lifestyles of people who end up in places like Portugal, Switzerland, Lake Como, and Milan), the movie allows us non-Europeans to temporarily live vicariously through characters with such good fortune – even if their lives are sad in other ways.

By the end, there are some loose ends that are mainly due to some one-dimensional villains whose motives remain unexplained. They include a busybody, mean-spirited housekeeper and an unethical leader of a “spiritual” retreat centre. However, the bigger stories feel complete by the end, leaving “Julieta” a very fulfilling experience. Suarez’s performance in this movie is definitely an asset.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming Movie Reviews:  Nocturnal Animals; Rogue One; Fences; Manchester by the Sea; Fantastic Beasts; Lion; La La Land; Hidden Figures; The Red Turtle; Toni Erdmann

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