Natalie Portman

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas)

This movie got good reviews, right? I mean, I know Episode I got good reviews, but this one did too, right? I suppose the CG is better than before–except for Yoda, who’s desperate for a good puppeteer–and the action sequences are a tad more engaging. The space battles, mostly. The actual lightsaber fight scenes are terrible. Lucas never establishes what makes a good… lightsaber-er. I mean, does one have to be a strong Jedi to do it or can a mediocre Jedi simply be good at it? The lightsaber fights aren’t much fun because it’s impossible to tell if the person winning is overcoming the odds or not.

But besides the improved CG, there’s absolutely nothing to recommend the movie. Even Ewan McGregor, who technically isn’t bad, doesn’t have any actual good scenes. Oh, I forgot about the backdrops–the composite backdrops, when Lucas sticks the actors in front of green screens and CG backdrops–are awful. They look worse than a matte painting in a Roger Corman movie.

Back to the acting–hopefully I’ll get around to script at some point, but it might be hard to muster the enthusiasm–Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is a constant battle between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman for worst performance in a galaxy far, far away (and this one). While Christensen is abjectly terrible, Portman’s somehow even worse–it’s a shocking statement, but true. Maybe it’s because Christensen’s in a lot of the movie, so the viewer gets worn down. Portman’s only in a handful of scenes–which doesn’t make much sense in terms of Lucas’s “sweeping” narrative–and she’s like a infrequent, deep stab into the chest.

The supporting cast is no better. Ian McDiarmid’s awful, Samuel L. Jackson’s apparently turning in a comic performance. No one–not even George Lucas–could think Jackson was giving a good performance. Actually, I think Jimmy Smits might give one of the film’s better performances.

Too bad, I got to the script. It starts immediately, with a poorly written (and laugh-out loud funny) opening text crawl. Then there’s the coughing robot–not to mention all the other robots, besides R2-D2, speaking English. Why doesn’t R2 just speak English too? Lucas turns R2 into an action hero–only for a while, though a Gizmo arc from Gremlins 2 would have been amusing–and those scenes aren’t terrible. It’s at least cute. There’s a stupid Chewbacca cameo. Every cameo and reference is stupid, depending on the viewer’s regard for the old Star Wars movies, they’re even offensive. It’s like Lucas never watched the original trilogy (yes, even Jedi).

There’s more–much more–like how it seems like Lucas never auditioned Christensen with McGregor, since they have absolutely no chemistry. There’s Portman calling Christensen by the nickname he had in the first movie–you know, when he was a little kid. It’s as creepy as the Luke and Leia kiss (in hindsight). I don’t even want to talk about the Luke and Leia introduction–it’s one of the worst scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s got to be.

Revenge of the Sith is a piece of crap. It’s so unfunny, there’s not even a point in musing on what happened to Lucas. There’s a character named Darth Plagueis (yes, I did have to Google the spelling). You know, as in Darth Plague-is. A grown-up wrote that name down and thought it was good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Roger Barton and Ben Burtt; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Frank Oz (Yoda), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (Her Royal Highness, The Elected Queen of Naboo).


My Blueberry Nights (2007, Wong Kar-wai)

I wonder what the reaction to My Blueberry Nights would have been if it were Wong Kar-wai’s first film instead of just his first English language film. Everything I’ve seen in way of critical reaction is polite, when it really ought to be anything but. My Blueberry Nights suggests a filmmaker for sale–nothing in Wong’s other work ever even suggested he’d write such an atrocious screenplay. He usually goes a long way to cast a film well, but here… Norah Jones is utterly incapable of acting. It’s more amateurish than a carpet commercial on a UHF station. The frequent use of her music is annoying as well–it makes the whole thing seem like nothing more than an advertisement for her.

It doesn’t help the opening also relies heavily on Jude Law. Law’s better than Jones, but his abject lack of character is a significant problem. Wong seems to want to imply character depth and apparently for no reason other than style. Even David Strathairn, spitting out the awkward dialogue, does nothing but remind of the superior filmmakers he’s worked with. Comparing this film to Sayles or–and I think this comparison is more intentional–Jarmusch reveals just what’s missing in My Blueberry Nights.

Wong’s always told these wonderfully subtle stories about people–even with all the style, they’re very quiet and reserved. Here, there isn’t even a story, there’s a blurb. An easy synopsis. Some catch phrases and keywords to describe the film.

Besides the awkward transitions, Wong’s composition is excellent. His use of Panavision is nice, Darius Khondji’s colors are lush and vibrant–especially the blues–the music, always something Wong uses to good effect, is poorly chosen. It’s kind of loud, rather obnoxious and definitely obvious.

It’s pretty clear what’s going on with the film. It’s hip. It’s Wong Kar-wai making a film for, I guess, what he perceives to be his English-speaking audience–a bunch of illiterate hipsters.

What’s particularly offending about the film is how much worse it gets as it goes. There’s voiceovers from Law and Jones–and if Jones can’t act a scene, listening her trying to narrate one is even worse. There’s some dumb title cards informing the viewer how long it’s been since the first scene in the present action. But the more interesting story is left untold (Jones hops from New York to Memphis after some long period of time). Wong has no sense of his characters here and he’s trying to make a movie about America, but somehow has almost no sense of it.

What Wong’s doing isn’t pretentious, it’s just bad. The acting’s bad, the plot’s bad, the dialogue’s bad, the music’s bad. If he had good actors, it’d still be bad. The creative impulse behind My Blueberry Nights decidedly lacks any artistry.

I don’t think any other director has ever had such a plummet in quality moving from one film market to another. I used to wait for Wong to make an American film… and now I’m left wondering if he’ll ever be able to make a good film again. My Blueberry Nights is so appalling, it’s hard to believe he ever will again–and I certainly hope he never does another English language project.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Lawrence Block, based on a story by Wong; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by William Chang; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Chang; produced by Wong, Jacky Pang Yee Wah, Wei Wang, Stéphane Kooshmanian and Jean-Louis Piel; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Norah Jones (Elizabeth), Jude Law (Jeremy), David Strathairn (Arnie), Rachel Weisz (Sue Lynne), Natalie Portman (Leslie), Cat Power (Katya) and Frankie Faison (Travis).


Beautiful Girls (1996, Ted Demme)

Of the principals, only Michael Rapaport is under thirty (Beautiful Girls hinges on a ten-year high school reunion) and much of the running time can be spent wondering how the viewer is supposed to believe Timothy Hutton isn’t thirty-five years old (he’s actually thirty-six). Hutton gives one of the film’s best performances, frequently transcending the script and its severe deficiencies (almost every event is a sitcom trope). His best scenes are with Noah Emmerich (whose performance is shockingly broad, even in this cast) and Natalie Portman. In their scenes together, both Hutton and Portman stumble through the awkward dialogue and create the film’s only (comparatively) honest relationship.

That relationship doesn’t have to be too real, since every other one in the picture is a hackneyed mess. Screen-“writer” Scott Rosenberg seems to fancy himself a more WASPy Kevin Smith with all the pop culture references. Only Ted Demme’s incredible direction–and it really is fantastic in every area except the film’s writing–saves the film. Besides Demme’s fantastic choice of look and sound for the picture (Adam Kimmel’s photography and David A. Stewart’s score), he also gets a lot of solid little moments in. Max Perlich has almost no function in the script, but under Demme’s direction, his occasional asides are some of the best moments in the film. Rosie O’Donnell basically gets a couple big monologues (I believe these were ghost-written for her; Rosenberg’s unabashedly sexist script doesn’t indicate he’s a feminist), but has some good little moments as well.

Beautiful Girls‘s greatest failings are all script-related, but having some terrible performances doesn’t hurt much either. The three worst performances are from Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman and Lauren Holly. Holly’s got what’s probably the film’s most difficult role and instead she plays it like a poorly articulated mannequin. I know I just got done complementing Demme with actors… but Holly doesn’t have any room for asides. Her character’s all epical, as is Dillon’s. Dillon’s so goofy in the film, it’s like he’s lampooning a former teen actor who can’t catch a break. His character is terribly written (none of the main characters make any sense being in their late twenties… it’s clear they’ve only existed since the end of the opening logo), but even so… Dillon still does a real bad job. Both he and Hutton lower their voices to make them gruff for whatever reason. Hutton it doesn’t work with, but there’s a still a performance backing it up. Dillon doesn’t have that luxury.

Thurman actually should be all fluff material, but the script places so much weight on her character, it’s hilarious to watch her. She’s absolutely incapable of creating even the semblance of a human being. Every one of her scenes is painful to watch.

The best performance is probably Mira Sorvino. She doesn’t have much of a character, but Sorvino essays the role brilliantly.

Otherwise… I guess Martha Plimpton and Pruitt Taylor Vince are both okay. They aren’t bad and they don’t embarrass themselves (why Miramax put Rapaport in this one, I can’t even imagine–he doesn’t have an honest second here).

The only real draw is Demme and his superior talent.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Demme; written by Scott Rosenberg; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by David A. Stewart; production designer, Dan Davis; produced by Cary Woods; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Matt Dillon (Tommy), Michael Rapaport (Paul), Martha Plimpton (Jan), Mira Sorvino (Sharon), Lauren Holly (Darian), Timothy Hutton (Willie), Annabeth Gish (Tracy), Natalie Portman (Marty), Uma Thurman (Andera), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Stanley), Anne Bobby (Sarah), Rosie O’Donnell (Gina), Noah Emmerich (Mo) and Max Perlich (Kev).


Scroll to Top