What Becomes a Legend Most: Jackie

DATELINE: National Nightmare


Pablo Larrain’s version of the JFK assassination from the close proximity of his beautiful widow comes to us via a South American director with the distance of a foreign eye.

Jackie will not please some Kennedy aficionados, nor worshippers of Mrs. Onassis. It is, however, compelling and frightening to see how this young woman had to deal with trauma and shock in the days after the 1963 tragedy.

Natalie Portman is Jackie Kennedy in her breathy, slight, personal style of what upper-crust means in America. With seamless intercuts of the famous White House tour in black and white, and stunning color footage of the actual funeral, we are given something we do not want to re-live with the unpleasant and distressing picture of a First Lady on a mission.

She might also be said to be on a rampage, wanting the world to see the blood on her clothes and to make herself a target of assassins by marching 14 blocks from the White House to the church. She forced every other world leader to be put on notice as fellow targets.

Most shocking is to see how alone this woman was—left in the White House in the night after her husband’s murder. She wanders the halls, showers off the blood, has a few stiff drinks, and plays Richard Burton singing “Camelot,” full length during her painful peripatetic night.

Peter Sarsgaard plays Robert Kennedy and takes it on the chin when Jackie flies into a rage. Journalist Billy Crudup seems to bait her in an interview, but she gives back in spades. And the unknown priest (John Hurt’s final performance) who tries to comfort her (allegedly Cardinal Richard Cushing) is also hit hard by her anger and cynicism over God and man.

Larrain’s film is compelling docudrama, eschewing conspiracy theories for the human theories. Indeed, Jackie wants to meet Oswald—and learns he too is assassinated.

Whether she means to have a spectacle for her dead husband, or for her own reasons, we may never be certain, but Jackie certainly has her way in the dark days, packing to leave the White House.

For those who lived through the Kennedy assassination, we may be horrified that movies like this will be how young people will learn about “a shining moment,” arranged by Mrs. Kennedy.

Swan Song for Murder



When you cross the seminal ballet drama The Red Shoes with the seminal paranoid murderer movie Psycho, you may end up with something akin to Black Swan.

Natalie Portman plays the combo role once limned by Moira Shearer if she danced in Anthony Perkins’s tutu.

There is something salacious in a classy way about dirty soap bubbles with high-toned music and budding artistes ready to plié their way to the top.

Portman is a rising star, troubled by an upstart in the ballet troupe. In a battle between the white swan and the black swan, Portman wins as an actress. Let the feathers fly.

The black swan makeup telegraphs psycho with its eye makeup done in a mask that makes the Lone Ranger look like a dodo bird.

The previous occasion when Peter Tchaikowsky’s music accompanied a psycho serial killer goes all the way back to the Howard Hughes Western about Billy the Kid. Yes, The Outlaw provided the Russian composer’s ballet music all dressed up for sociopathic murder.

So, Swan Lake joins a small list of movies that use music the average audience member won’t recognize, won’t appreciate, and surely won’t remember as noteworthy.

Audiences interested in slasher themes come to this film already convinced people in the lively arts are slightly nutcase types to begin. As a result, it’s fairly easy to turn a ballet about swans into “Who Killed Cock Robin in the Cuckoo’s Nest?”

Throw in some wonderful actresses of another generation like Barbara “Don’t Call Me Seagull” Hershey and Winona Ryder in supporting roles. These women could have played the key movie roles 20 years ago with as much aplomb as Portman and Mila Kunis.

As Portman’s sensitive Nina descends into a full-fledged kookoo bird, this black swan becomes a turkey vulture. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.


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The Thinning of Henry VIII



Eric Bana, Better Looking than Six Wives in a Plot

We have seen King Henry lose weight like Jenny Craig was among his six wives.

The Other Boleyn Girl proves to be an opulent tragic romance, penned by that brilliant master of historical and royal people, Peter Morgan who gave us Frost/Nixon, The Queen, and others.

This early effort put his talents upon the old chestnut of Anne Boleyn and her ill-fated marriage to a king who made ‘off with her head’ one of his calling cards.

Henry has been losing weight in recent years and becoming more of a media darling—jacked and athletic, looking less like Prince Fielder than his portraits suggest. He has gone from the piggy style of Charles Laughton to the debonair Jonathan Rhys Meyers, nearly a waif, and now through Eric Bana, Henry is a king in and out of bed. His adultery comes across as fun only a king could have in those days.

The camera lingers on his abs during one heady bedtime with Anne’s sister Mary. Yes, Henry kept it in the family. Mary won his heart and kept her head. As a sidelight she marries William Carey, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in another curio role. 

Even as the quisling, weakling husband of Mary Boleyn, he manages to make a mark in a limited role.

Tracking familiar territory, the tale of the intrigue in Henry’s court finds another offshoot to make it watchable with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johanssen as the Boleyn sisters.

We also enjoyed Kristin Scott Thomas as their mother whose common sense was simply ignored as the temper of the times demanded.

You’d almost think this was a BBC/PBS special cable movie, but you’d be wrong. This movie is strictly the big time, big budget, and big pomp.