Week in Review 2/28 to 3/5

This week started out with a chock full of delicate female types…I don’t know why…but films like this seem to be maximizing my watch list. I REALLY like strong women in film and I like to support these women but damn if they didn’t make it so hard…This week I watched By the Sea, Jackie, and Body of Evidence. Except for Natalie Portman in Jackie–what is it with these women who’ve made it based on hyper-sexual character roles and then complain no one will take them seriously when they want to do something straight?

photo imdb.com

Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, By the Sea is a story about a couple who go to Malta for a getaway while struggling to keep their marriage together. Angie plays Vanessa, a fragile-minded former dancer, who is married to novelist Roland– who also has a drinking and wife problem. The story is set in 1970’s, probably for the costuming, cars, and set decorations. It feels like an American attempt at making a French film. Anyhoo…Roland, played by Brad Pitt, and Vanessa arrive at a French Hotel by the sea so Vanessa can relax while Roland works on his next book. Their relationship is rocky at best and the first hour is spent with gorgeous views of Vanessa (Angelina) being delicate, fragile, and shut down mixed with shots of Roland (Brad) being a chain-smoking alcoholic who cannot seem to reach his wife. Roland is befriended by the bar owner Michel, played by Niels Arestrup who is more like a father figure/babysitter for Roland. Then, a newlywed couple, played by Melvil Poupaud and Melanie Laurent, are put in the room next door and the newness of their relationship sparks a connection in Vanessa and Roland. The tragic secret of Vanessa and Roland’s marriage gets revealed and some things get sorted out.

First, it takes courage and fortitude to write a screenplay, show it people, and actually get the film made. That being said, it wouldn’t have been made if it didn’t have the Jolie-Pitts attached to it. Is it gorgeous, yes. The cinematography is wonderful, the locations, scene set ups, camera angles, costuming, and people are stunning to watch. The story wants so much to be taken seriously and yet I found myself wondering why do I care? Watching Brad Pitt as a tortured husband made me think how close to home it must have felt. How this film, with all its easter eggs, was more like Angie’s love letter to Brad trying to explain who she is and wanting him to love her anyway. It’s clear they are good together. There is no way Angie could show this side of herself without full trust in Brad. It’s also clear Angie sees herself quite tragically and men, including Brad, will always find a reason to step away from her. Even though it’s her pushing them away. Available on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

photo imdb.com

Written by Noah Oppenheim and directed by Pablo Larrain. This is the story of Jackie Kennedy after her husband, former president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. Natalie Portman plays Jackie with a shallow depth (if that makes any sense) but with the intensity and commitment of a well trained actress. I’m not sure anyone really knew Jackie to get a true sense of embodiment. I can only imagine having the weight of the world on you when your husband–leader of the free world–is killed and decisions about everything have to be made. Jackie was a formidable woman, to say the least, rightly private, and was probably not able to properly grieve the loss of her husband. Fascinating to watch her navigate the aftermath of the assassination, making arrangements, tending to her duties as First Lady, and be a mom while the world watched every move. Not sure how accurate the film is; however, based on what is shown, Jackie really wanted the White House to be a place honoring those chosen to serve the country and live within it’s walls as well as a place Americans could hold in reverence. Her tour of the White House and the her restoration project was a bridge of friendship to those watching from the outside. Supporting players include Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, who clearly did the best he could while trying to deal with his brother being murdered. Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, Jackie’s assistant and confidant. Billy Crudup as the journalist Jackie confides her story in–with the caveat she will edit his notes giving permission to only publish what she approves. Parts of the film are intertwined with actual footage of the moments which I thought were pretty cool. Available on Amazon. Watch the trailer below:

photo imdb.com

Written by Brad Mirman, directed by Uli Edel, and released in 1993. (One year after Basic Instinct, which should tell you something…) I revisited this film for a couple of reasons. One, it was one of the films about to be purged from Tubi’s film library. (Tubi is a free streaming platform–if you don’t mind the occasional commercials which are usually less than 20 seconds. I watch from my laptop as it is no longer supported through my blue-ray player.) Two, I love Madonna and have always felt no one seemed to take her seriously. This film is CHOCK full of great actors, the story’s premise is intriguing, and it was filmed in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, the director REALLY liked close-ups of Madonna’s face (who wouldn’t, especially then) and took the sexiness to the max quotient which, I think, pretty much ruined any chance of it getting a serious look. It came out one year after Basic Instinct which some people may remember the buzz with Sharon Stone’s hoochy coochie? Madonna shows WAY more than Sharon’s little suggestive peek—but no one cared.

This film follows the trial of Rebecca Carlson, played by Madonna, who’s older lover has died from a heart attack caused by cocaine mixed with high intensity sex. Their sex was video taped, naturally, and the graphic footage is shown throughout the film. Her defense lawyer–Frank Dulaney, played by Willem Dafoe, does his best to defend her but gets caught in her web of “I’m innocent but need to save crazy sex with you” vortex. Robert Garrett, played by Joe Mantegna, is the prosecutor who naturally sets up each witness with “shocking” testimony, only to have Frank turn it around in Rebecca’s favor. Anne Archer plays the deceased man’s secretary–who has a secret of her own! Let’s just say, everyone “gets” what they deserve in the end… Julianne Moore plays Frank’s wife. Frank Langella plays a key witness at the trial. Madonna went through a period when she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress and she truly did her best at every turn. She is a larger than life person and not afraid to take risks or do things/scenes which literally NO other serious actress would do in this type of film. It’s obvious to me, it was subconscious sabotage by the director and the need to make a sexy, shocking, murder drama/fantasy film which ultimately killed it. Some of the sex scenes between Madonna and Willem Dafoe look TOO real. Sure, Basic Instinct has sex; but, the way the scenes were shot were suspenseful and left some to the imagination as well as a lot more respectful to Sharon Stone than Body of Evidence was to Madonna. Sharon’s still riding that exploitation train…

The dialogue isn’t great. The courtroom scenes are just filler scenes between the sex stuff. To be fair, the film was nominated for best International Fantasy Film as international audiences are not as prude as Americans. Madonna won Most Desirable Female from the MTV awards. As a whole, it received every Razzie award possible…With all the big names, how could it fail? Obviously, no one stopped the director from making a soft porn film splashed with some suspense drama and releasing it. Had some of the hardcore sex stuff been edited out, it might have had a chance. Available on Tubi. Watch the trailer below:

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