Tag Archives: acting

Actress Carrie Fisher dies at age 60

Carrie Fisher, who rose to fame as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films, died on Tuesday aged 60, her family said.

Fisher, a mental health advocate who spoke about her own struggles with bipolar disorder and cocaine addiction, had suffered a heart attack on Friday as she flew into Los Angeles.

The daughter of actor Debbie Reynolds and the late singer Eddie Fisher had been returning from England where she was shooting the third season of the British sitcom “Catastrophe.”

“Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” Reynolds said on Facebook. “I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”

Fisher’s friend and former Star Wars’ co-star Mark Hamill, who played Leia’s brother Luke Skywalker, said in a tweet: “No words. #Devastated”

Fisher was met by paramedics and rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after suffering the heart attack during the flight on Friday.

She made headlines last month when she disclosed that she had a three-month love affair with her “Star Wars” co-star Harrison Ford 40 years ago.

Fisher revealed the secret to People magazine while promoting her new memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” just before it went on sale. The book is based on Fisher’s diaries from her time working on the first “Star Wars” movie.

Harrison said in a statement Fisher was funny, emotionally fearless and one-of-a-kind. “She lived her life, bravely…We will all miss her.”

Fisher said the affair started and ended in 1976 during production on the blockbuster sci-fi adventure in which she first appeared as the intrepid Princess Leia. Ford played the maverick space pilot Han Solo.

“It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend,” Fisher told People. She was 19 and Ford was 33 at the time.

“How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me? I was so inexperienced, but I trusted something about him. He was kind,” she wrote of Ford in the memoir, the latest of several books Fisher authored.

Fisher reprised the role in two “Star Wars” sequels. She gained sex symbol status in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” when her Leia character wore a metallic gold bikini while enslaved by the diabolical Jabba the Hutt.

She returned last year in Disney’s reboot of the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Force Awakens,” appearing as the more matronly General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance movement fighting the evil First Order.

Filming was completed in July on Fisher’s next appearance as Leia in “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” which is set to reach theaters in December 2017.

Fisher’s Princess Leia makes a surprise appearance at the end of “Rogue One,” the latest blockbuster, which opened this month, in the “Star Wars” series.

Shortly after news of her death was made public, her dog Gary, who has his own Twitter account, said goodbye: “Saddest tweets to tweet. Mommy is gone. I love you @carrieffisher.”

She is survived by her mother, Reynolds, her daughter, Billie Lourd, and her brother Todd Fisher.

EARLY SHOWBIZ START

Fisher also played a memorable supporting role in the 1989 hit film “When Harry Met Sally,” as a friend of Meg Ryan’s character who falls for and marries the best pal of Billy Crystal’s character.

More recently, Fisher played the American mother-in-law on “Catastrophe.”

Born in Beverly Hills, Carrie Fisher got her showbiz start at age 12 in her mother’s Las Vegas nightclub act. She made her film debut as a teenager in the 1975 comedy “Shampoo,” two years before her “Star Wars” breakthrough.

But her life was also at times mired in drug abuse, mental illness and tumultuous romances with other entertainment figures, all of which she laid bare in her books, interviews and a one-woman stage show titled “Wishful Drinking.”

She was once engaged to comic actor Dan Aykroyd, later married, then divorced, singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and had a daughter out of wedlock with Hollywood talent agent Brian Lourd.

After undergoing treatment in the mid-1980s for cocaine addition, she wrote the bestselling novel, “Postcards from the Edge,” about a drug-abusing actress forced to move back in with her mother. She later adapted the book into a film that starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.

She told Reuters in a 2011 interview that tabloid exposure of her private life could be trying.

“‘Carrie Fisher’s tragic life.’ That was one that hurt,” she said, quoting a headline. “‘Hey, how about Carrie Fisher? She used to be so hot. Now she looks like Elton John.’ That hurt.”

She also acknowledged being briefly hospitalized in 2013 due to a bout with bipolar disorder.

However, Fisher told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview published last month she was happier than she had ever been.

“I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to,” she said. “But if I did, I’d be able to do it. I’m not going to enjoy dying but there’s not much prep for that.”

Summing up the showbiz legacy she expected to leave behind in her 2011 memoir “Shockaholic,” Fisher wrote in self-deprecating style: “What you’ll have of me after I journey to that great Death Star in the sky is an extremely accomplished daughter, a few books, and a picture of a stern-looking girl wearing some kind of metal bikini lounging on a giant drooling squid, behind a newscaster informing you of the passing of Princess Leia after a long battle with her head.”

Martin Scorsese: ‘Cinema is gone’

Martin Scorsese’s Manhattan office, in a midtown building a few blocks northwest of the cordoned-off Trump Tower, may be the most concentrated bastion of reverence for cinema on the face of the earth.

There’s a small screening room where Scorsese screens early cuts of his films and classic movies for his daughter and his friends. There’s his personal library of thousands of films, some he taped himself decades ago. Film posters line the walls. Bookshelves are stuffed with film histories. And there are editing suites, including the one where Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker regularly toil with a monitor dedicated to the continuous, muted playing of Turner Classic Movies.

“It’s a temple of worship, really,” says Schoonmaker.

Scorsese’s latest, “Silence,” may be the film that most purely fuses the twin passions of his life: God and cinema.

Scorsese, who briefly pursued becoming a priest before fervently dedicating himself to moviemaking, has sometimes seemed to conflate the two.

“Silence” is a solemn, religious epic about Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) in a violently anti-Catholic 17th century Japan. Scorsese has wanted to make it for nearly 30 years. He was given the book it’s based on, Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, by a bishop after a screening of his famously controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988.

“Silence” is an examination of belief and doubt and mysterious acts of faith.

But making the film was such an act in itself.

“Acting it out, maybe that’s what existence is all about,” Scorsese says of his faith. “The documentary on George Harrison I made, ‘Living in the Material World,’ that says it better. He said if you want an old man in the sky with a beard, fine. I don’t mean to be relativist about it. I happen to feel more comfortable with Christianity. But what is Christianity? That’s the issue and that’s why I made this film.”

It wasn’t easy.

Scorsese, 74, may be among the most revered directors in Hollywood, but “Silence” is almost the antithesis of today’s studio film.

To make it Scorsese had to drum up foreign money in Cannes and ultimately made the film for about $46 million. Everyone, including himself, worked for scale.

Few today are making movies with the scope and ambition of “Silence” — a fact, he grants, that makes him feel like one of the last of a dying breed in today’s film industry.

“Cinema is gone,” Scorsese says. “The cinema I grew up with and that I’m making, it’s gone.”

“The theater will always be there for that communal experience, there’s no doubt. But what kind of experience is it going to be?” he continues. “Is it always going to be a theme-park movie? I sound like an old man, which I am. The big screen for us in the ‘50s, you go from Westerns to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to the special experience of ‘2001’ in 1968. The experience of seeing ‘Vertigo’ and ‘The Searchers’ in VistaVision.”

Scorsese points to the proliferation of images and the overreliance on superficial techniques as trends that have diminished the power of cinema to younger audiences. “It should matter to your life,” he says. “Unfortunately the latest generations don’t know that it mattered so much.”

Scorsese’s comments echo a tender letter he wrote his daughter two years ago. The future of movies, he believes, is in the freedom that technology has yielded for anyone to make a movie.

“TV, I don’t think has taken that place. Not yet,” adds Scorsese, whose “Boardwalk Empire” was lauded but whose high-priced “Vinyl” was canceled after one season. “I tried it. I had success to a certain extent. ‘Vinyl’ we tried but we found that the atmosphere for the type of picture we wanted to make — the nature of the language, the drugs, the sex, depicting the rock ‘n’ roll world of the ‘70s — we got a lot of resistance. So I don’t know about that freedom.”

Since the election of Donald Trump, some have expressed hope for a return to the kind of ‘70s filmmaking Scorsese is synonymous with.

“If the younger people have something to say and they find a way to say through visual means as well as literary, there’s the new cinema,” says Scorsese.

But the current climate reminds him more of the ‘50s of his youth.

“I’m worried about double-think or triple-think, which is make you believe you have the freedom, but they can make it very difficult to get the picture shown, to get it made, ruin reputations. It’s happened before.”

“Silence,” which Scorsese screened for Jesuits at the Vatican before meeting with the pope, remains a powerful exception in a changing Hollywood.

“He wanted to make this film extremely differently from anything out there,” says Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s editor since “Raging Bull.” “He’s just tired of slam-bam-crash. Telling the audience what to think is what he really hates. Trying to do a meditative movie at this point, in this insane world we’re in now, was incredibly brave. He wanted to stamp the film with that throughout: the pace, the very subtle use of music.

“How many movies start without music at the very beginning under the logos?” she adds. “He said, ‘Take out all that big Hollywood.””

Scorsese, apostle of cinema, continues the fight.

His Film Foundation has helped restore more than 750 films. And he regularly pens supportive letters to young directors whose films he admires.

Imagine that in your mailbox. Almost like getting a letter from your god.

An unexpected life in sci-fi: An interview with Sigourney Weaver

A movie has a way of sitting up straight whenever Sigourney Weaver is in it. Whether the part is small or large, she reliably jolts any film alive with her intelligence and commanding presence. She usually means business.

That, of course, has been apparent since her breakthrough role as Ellen Ripley in “Alien.” But it’s no less true of Weaver at 67. She has an almost queen-like status on today’s movie landscape, particularly in science-fiction.

She has defined one mega franchise (“Alien,” with one more on the way) and been the MVP of another (“Avatar,” with four sequels coming). Just her voice is enough to lend sci-fi credibility, whether as the ship’s voice in “WALL-E” or as the all-powerful Director in “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Weaver has been particularly ubiquitous in 2016, gracing the year’s top box-office hit, “Finding Dory,” with its best gag (her aquatic center greeting), and popping in to reprise her original role in the contentious “Ghostbusters” reboot. She was even glimpsed in Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” as a young, rabid Beatlemaniac.

But she ends the year with “A Monster Calls,” a smaller film that uses fantasy to plumb deeper emotional depths. Directed by J.A. Bayona (who’s helming the next “Jurassic Park” film), the adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel is about a boy coping with his mother’s terminal illness. Aside from approaching grief with uncommon seriousness, the film flips some genre tropes, including Weaver’s grandmother character.

The actress (who hasn’t lost a bit of her glamour) recently reflected on “A Monster Calls,” her re-entry to Pandora and her legacy of strong female protagonists.

AP: Your father, Sylvester ‘Pat’ Weaver was president of NBC and created the “Tonight Show.” Was it like you grew up in show business?

Weaver: At the time, I thought everyone’s father ran a network. I thought everyone got to go on the set of “Peter Pan” and meet Mary Martin. I always used to think I was going to go to school and then come home and be a different girl and go to a different house. It took me a while to realize I was stuck with me. Maybe that’s the early awareness of an actor that we’re all changeable. I remember thinking, “Gosh, I’m so amazed I’m in this body for so long.”

AP: You have such an impact on a film, regardless of how large your part is.

Weaver: I really love being part of a good story. I don’t need to be the center of the story. That’s why I really loved “A Monster Calls” because the grandmother was unlike anyone I’ve played before _ not completely unlike my mother, who was British. It’s a movie I hope families go to together.

AP: Was your small role in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” your first film?

Weaver: Woody offered me a bigger part but I turned it down because I was in a play. I played a multiple schizophrenic who kept a hedgehog in her vagina and I wasn’t going to give that part up.

AP: “Alien” was quite a follow-up.

Weaver: It didn’t feel like a big movie to me. It felt like a very small, dark, strange movie and I could relate to that because I was used to doing very strange things off-Broadway. I thought: This is fine. This is like a workshop movie.

AP: Ripley was one of the first strong female protagonists in an action film. Is that a legacy you’re proud of?

Weaver: I am. I’ve since read other scripts and I go, “Well that’s kind of an interesting part but I’d rather play this guy.” Because I always feel still, like in our world, there’s a lot of testosterone in some of these movies where really legitimately a woman would be involved.

AP: Do you think that’s changing?

Weaver: I think by the time your daughters are in the world, everything will be different.

AP: What did you think of the backlash to Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters”?

Weaver: I was very surprised by it. I enjoyed the movie. I love all those women. I think Feig is brilliant. I do think it has something to do with the misogyny Trump has unearthed. I thought it was very charming. Does it also make you remember how much you loved the first one? I think so, but not to the extent that I’m going to boycott it. We’re sitting at the table. You’ve got to make room for us. We’re not going to go away.

AP: Ang Lee’s “Ice Storm” must be a film you’re particularly proud of.

Weaver: I was discussing a character I might play with someone and they said, “This woman’s cold.” I said I find that a nonsensical adjective for a woman. I’m sure you could describe Janey in “Ice Storm” as cold but she wasn’t cold. She was so disconnected from her life and bored by it.

AP: You’re soon to head into one mammoth “Avatar” production.

Weaver: The scripts for “Avatar” are absolutely incredible. I have committed to a very interesting movie about a woman (“Second Saturn”) that I hope to do in May. It’s like: This is my wonderful meal before I go into Pandora.

 

 

 ‘La La Land’ is something to sing about

In time for Christmas, there’s the eye-popping, heart-lifting “La La Land,” which honors and modernizes the screen musical to such joyful effect that you might find yourself pirouetting home from the multiplex.

OK, perhaps we exaggerate.

“La La Land,” created by the copiously talented writer/director Damien Chazelle and featuring the dream pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is not for everyone.

Perhaps you don’t like music, or singing, or dancing. Or romance, or love, or beautiful people falling in love. Or sunsets, or primary colors, or pastels. Or stories. Or, heck, the movies themselves.

If you don’t like any of those things, maybe stay home.

Otherwise, be prepared: By the end, something will surely have activated those tear ducts. The one complaint I overheard upon leaving the film was: “I didn’t have enough Kleenex.”

The first obvious gift of “La La Land” is its sheer originality. Let’s start with the music. Unlike in so many other films, nobody else’s hits are used here. The affecting score is by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (also getting kudos for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

Our setting is Los Angeles, and so it begins — as it must — on a jammed freeway.

But unlike Michael Douglas in “Falling Down,” the drivers here simply brush off their frustrations, exit their cars, and break into song and dance.

This virtuoso number, “Another Day of Sun,” which was filmed on a freeway interchange with some 100 dancers toiling in sizzling temperatures, establishes Chazelle’s high-flying ambitions. It also tells us we’d darned well better be ready for people to break out into song — because that happens in musicals. And it introduces our main characters.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a struggling jazz pianist, with stubborn dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, working as a barista while auditioning for TV parts. They clash on the freeway. She gives him the finger.

They have a second bad meeting at a piano bar. Finally they meet a third time, at a party. Suddenly, they find themselves on a bench overlooking the Hollywood Hills at dusk. And then … they dance.

Is it Astaire and Rogers (or Charisse)? Yes and no. Stone and Gosling are charming musical performers, but way less polished and ethereal than their cinematic forbears. This human quality in their first duet makes us root for them.

And we keep on rooting. It’s hard to imagine more perfect casting here. Gosling’s Sebastian is suave and sexy but also ornery and unsure of himself; Stone’s Mia is warm and ebullient but also fretful and self-doubting. They need each other to chase their respective dreams.

But what will success mean, and can they possibly achieve it together? It’s this pillar of the story that lends it a very modern, melancholy bite.

Chazelle, 31, shows his love for cinema with references both sly and overt to classics like “Singin’ In the Rain” and Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

And then there’s the nod to “Rebel Without a Cause,” with a scene at LA’s Griffith Observatory.

There, at a place built to watch the stars, the two dancing lovers actually lift up into them.

It’s corny, sure, and gorgeous and romantic. As Sebastian says to his sister earlier in the film, “You say ‘romantic’ like it’s a bad word!” In a musical, romantic is NEVER a bad word.

Some people resist musicals because in real life, people never break out into song; they just speak their feelings. To which musical lovers say: “Exactly! And this is why we need musicals.”

Long live the musical. Bring enough Kleenex.

‘Deadpool’ in, ‘Silence’ out and more Globes film surprises

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association never fails to disappoint with their assortment of nominees, which always seem to include some expected picks, some inspired ones and some headscratchers too.

The nominations for the 74th annual Golden Globes certainly had some bombshells, too. Here are a few notable snubs and surprises.

OLD GUARD OUT

Past Globes glory didn’t seem to matter this year for Hollywood legends Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Warren Beatty, none of whom received directing nominations despite all having won in that category at least once. In fact, Eastwood’s “Sully” (that means no Tom Hanks nomination either) and Scorsese’s “Silence” were shut out completely, while Beatty’s big return to directing and acting, “Rules Don’t Apply,” scored only one nomination — for actress Lily Collins.

NO LOVE FOR ‘LOVE & FRIENDSHIP’

Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen adaptation “Love & Friendship” charmed audiences and critics, but was left without a single nomination — especially surprising in the case of Kate Beckinsale, whose performance as the conniving and ambitious Lady Susan Vernon has been widely regarded as one of her best. Instead, in the musical or comedy category, the HFPA singled out the little-seen John Carney musical “Sing Street.”

THE NAUGHTIEST SUPERHERO

Besides being a superhero movie, the irreverent and very R-rated “Deadpool” is about as far away as one can get from a stereotypically tasteful awards choice, but somehow still scored two nominations — one for best motion picture in the musical or comedy category and another for star Ryan Reynolds. Perhaps they draw the line at animated food orgy, though — “Sausage Party,” despite a big awards push, was left out of the fun.

LEFT FIELD ACTING CHOICES

The comedy and drama distinction always allows for a few out-of-nowhere contenders, but the best performance by an actor in a musical or comedy was stacked with unexpected picks, including Colin Farrell for his performance as a single guy looking for love in the dark as night comedy “The Lobster,” Ryan Reynolds for “Deadpool,” and Jonah Hill as a bro arms dealer in the generally panned “War Dogs.” In the supporting category, Aaron Taylor-Johnson sneaked in with a nod for his portrayal of a sadistic Texan in “Nocturnal Animals” and Simon Helberg for his crowd-pleasing piano player in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” which elicited a gasp from those in the room at the Beverly Hilton while the nominations were being announced.

MISS SLOANE TAKES CHARGE

“Miss Sloane,” the Jessica Chastain-led lobbying thriller, might have bombed at the box office this weekend and received generally tepid reviews from critics, but it didn’t stop the HFPA taking notice of Chastain’s performance as the always three steps ahead of the competition Elizabeth Sloane. Since 2012, Chastain has been nominated for four Golden Globes and won once, in 2013, for “Zero Dark Thirty.”

WOMEN BEHIND THE CAMERA

With the statistics of female representation behind the camera as dismal as they are, it might not be that much of a surprise to find zero films directed by women up for best picture or best director this year. Yet it is notable, especially with critically acclaimed fare like Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” and Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” both of which were shut out completely. The one saving grace is in the foreign category, where Maren Ade’s comedy “Toni Erdmann” is the nominee from Germany and Uda Benyamina’s “Divines” is nominated from France.

Jessica Williams, Cate Blanchett star in Sundance premieres

Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams flexes her dramatic chops. Cate Blanchett pays homage to great 20th century artists and “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani tells a very personal story in some of the films premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Programmers announced their selections for the documentary and narrative premiere sections at the Sundance Film Festival, which has launched films like “Boyhood,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “O.J.: Made in America.”

As with many years, the Sundance premiere slate can be a place for well-known comedians to take a stab at more dramatic and serious roles.

In what’s expected to be one of the breakout films and performances of the festival, comedian Jessica Williams stars in Jim Strouse’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a New York playwright recovering from a breakup and finding solace in a recent divorcee.

Nanjiani is another who might surprise audiences in “The Big Sick,” which he co-wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon and is based on their own courtship. He stars alongside Zoe Kazan in the Michael Showalter-directed pic.

The festival also has films featuring veteran stars in different kinds of roles.

Shirley MacLaine stars in “The Last Word,” about a retired businesswoman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a journalist (Amanda Seyfried) after writing her own obituary.

Festival founder Robert Redford, too, is in Charlie McDowell’s “The Discovery,” about a world where the afterlife has been proven. Jason Segel and Rooney Mara also star.

Cate Blanchett re-enacts artistic statements of Dadaists, Lars von Trier and everyone in between in “Manifesto.”

Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland co-star in the drama “Where is Kyra.”

“Avengers” Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen re-team in the FBI crime thriller “Wind River,” the directorial debut of “Hell or High Water” writer Taylor Sheridan.

“Bessie” director Dee Rees is poised to be a standout with “Mudbound,” a racial drama set in the post-WWII South and starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.

“It’s quite topical to this time even though it’s a period piece,” said festival director John Cooper.

Among the documentaries premiering are a look at the Oklahoma City bombing from Barak Goodman; Stanley Nelson’s examination of black colleges and universities, “Tell Them We Are Rising”; and Barbara Kopple’s account of a champion diver who announces he is transgender, “This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.”

“The beauty of independent film is it’s not a copycat world, unlike some of the Hollywood stuff where they follow trends,” said programming director Trevor Groth. “Independent film has always been about originality and choice and something different.”

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 19- 29.

 

On the Web

www.sundance.org/festival

Natalie Portman explores the mysteries of Jackie Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy did not have a conventional speaking voice. It’s part New York, part prep school Mid-Atlantic, and it’s jarring to most modern ears. Natalie Portman remembers her first few days on the set of “Jackie,” going all in on that very specific accent and looking up to see her director Pablo Larrain’s wide-eyed bafflement.

“Pablo’s face was like ‘uhhhhh…’,” Portman said laughing.

They were filming a recreation of the television special “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” where CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood followed the first lady around with cameras as they spoke about each room and her pricey restoration. Larrain stopped during one take and played footage of the actual tour just to check. He was amazed at how spot-on Portman’s interpretation actually was.

Still, “at the beginning it was shocking,” Larrain said.

It was also, he notes, different from how Jackie Kennedy sounded in other circumstances. She had a public voice and a private voice, which Portman was able to study through Kennedy’s recorded interviews with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

The film “Jackie,” out in limited release, explores the nuances of these public and private sides of the enigmatic figure in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband in 1963 as she plans the funeral, exits her home, comforts her children and tends to her husband’s legacy.

It’s what compelled screenwriter Noah Oppenheim to make her the subject of his first script.

“Most often she is perceived through the lens of being this style icon, this beautiful woman at her husband’s side. People are fascinated by their marriage and his infidelities. But I didn’t feel like she had ever gotten enough credit for understanding intuitively the power of television, the power of imagery and iconography and her role in defining how we remember her husband’s presidency,” Oppenheim said.

It was she, a week after the assassination, in an interview with Theodore H. White for LIFE magazine, who first uttered the word Camelot in reference to their time in power.

“I always assumed that the Kennedy administration had been referred to as Camelot from the beginning, that they were this young, handsome couple and American royalty,” Oppenheim said. “The fact that she came up with Camelot is incredible. That one reference accomplishes more than any list of policy accomplishments ever could have in terms of cementing in people’s minds who Jack Kennedy was.”

The film, however, isn’t out to provide answers. It relishes in Jackie being this inscrutable figure, showing the subtle differences in her interactions with the people around her, including a priest (John Hurt), the journalist (Billy Crudup), her longtime friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard).

“(Oppenheim) told her story through these different relationships and the different roles she played around the people in her life at different times. I think that’s really powerful … Consistency or arc is really a narrative fiction. Human beings are not like that,” said Portman, who is earning some of the best reviews of her career for her performance.

Larrain wouldn’t do the film without Portman. The script had been around since 2010 before getting the attention of Darren Aronofsky, who was set to direct his then-fiance Rachel Weisz in the role. After exiting, Aronofsky stayed on to produce and was the one who made the somewhat unconventional ask of Larrain, a Chilean filmmaker, to consider it.

When Portman met with Larrain, she said it was akin to “being dared” to do the film.

“He was like, ‘we’re going to do this together or we’ll both walk away,’” she said. “I was like ‘all right, this is good. Let’s take each other’s hands and jump.’”

The tone, thanks to studied editing of Sebastian Sepulveda and a striking score by Mica Levi, can sometimes seem more like a psychological thriller than a conventional character study. Larrain delights in the beauty of bringing an audience to “that indeterminate place.”

Portman, on the other hand, knows she’s at the disposal of her directors and often isn’t aware of the exact tone until she sees the finished product.

“When we were making ‘Black Swan,’ I thought I was making a completely different movie from the one I saw. I thought we were making something almost like a documentary and then I saw it and I was like ‘What? What is this!?’ I literally had no idea,” she said. “I thought it was like a realistic portrait of a psychological breakdown of a person and it was not at all. You can totally misunderstand tone, but still it can work.”

The film, heavy with historical and emotional significance, did allow for some levity, though, compliments of that White House Tour.

“We enjoyed that so much,” Larrain said. “It was just talking about furniture and chairs. And she would even make the same mistakes Jackie did.”

Portman: “We laughed a lot. Pablo kept being like ‘be more excited about the chair!’ She’s REALLY excited about the chair.”

Larrain: “But it was necessary because it shows a kind of splendor. I think when you are portraying such a tragic and critical moment, you need to have splendor to really understand that.”

Chastain enlivens political thriller ‘Miss Sloane’

There’s never a hair out of place in “Miss Sloane ,” a painstakingly slick political thriller from director John Madden about a brilliant lone wolf lobbyist consumed with the win. It’s a wannabe Aaron Sorkin-meets-Shonda Rhimes glimpse into the hollow and cynical world of inside the beltway dealings from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera that’s never quite snappy, insightful or salacious enough to be as fun or damning as it should be.

All the pieces are there, especially in the film’s subject — the steely Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a pill-popping master manipulator who is always at the ready with a perfect quip, biblical verse or history lesson for the moment. She’s the kind of do-it-all wonder woman who is just as comfortable working a room of scuzzy Washington insiders or pleading the fifth at an intimidating congressional hearing as she is directing a team of spooks to illegally surveil someone with a camera-equipped cockroach.

Elizabeth Slone’s mantra is that lobbying is all about foresight and making sure you play your trump card after the other guys play theirs. Our first glimpse of her in action shows her willfully neglecting Senate ethics rules by arranging some luxury travel for a congressman and his family to try to sway him on a palm oil tax initiative. She’s a mercenary who is out for the win at all costs, and she’s the best at it.

But she also has principles, and leaves her top firm for the opposition when a powerful gun group asks her to devise messaging to turn women against universal background checks for gun ownership. Her cavalier dismissal of a massive new client for her firm enrages her boss, a scenery chewing Sam Waterston, and makes the audience a little more intrigued about why this woman does what she does.

Now fighting for the underdogs, an increasingly obsessed, Elizabeth uses everything at her disposal to try to ensure that the background check bill passes, testing the loyalty and limits of those around her (including the firm’s head played by Mark Strong, and an ambitious protege in Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with her sliding morality and deep distrust of others. Relationships are nothing but arsenal (and thus disposable) and she’s the only one who will ever know the grand plan.

The only person who manages to get close to Elizabeth is an inquisitive male escort with a heart of gold (Jake Lacy) who gets her to say that she chose to forgo a simpler life with kids and family and whatnot for her job. That life wasn’t for her in her early 20s and isn’t for her now, in her late 30s, either. It’s not the most revealing conversation, but we’ve let many a male character get away with far less.

While it is fun to see Chastain as a powerful boss lady, raising a martini glass to her competitors (including a sniveling Michael Stuhlbarg) who she’s just publicly embarrassed with another move of political cunning, the story itself just skates along an already well-established surface of corrupt Washington narratives. It fails to add any distinctive flair to the genre, and, despite its sleek composition and top-notch talent (including John Lithgow as a congressman), seems more like prestige television than anything else.

Then there’s the matter of timing. “Miss Sloane” has the misfortune of coming out in this political moment. Crafted in a different climate about a still-relevant issue, it should have been more resonant. Instead, through no fault of its own, it already feels woefully out of date.

‘Loving’ tenderly explores the human side of a landmark case

“Look at me,” Ruth Negga says in between sniffles. “I’ve only been doing this for two weeks and I’m sick already.”

You wouldn’t know it to see her. The Irish and Ethiopian actress, soon to be known for a star-making performance in the new film “Loving,” looks put-together. But behind the smile and the camera ready stylings, Negga is battling a wicked cold while soldiering her way through a long day media interviews to promote the film. It’s something that won’t likely let up for the next four months either as Hollywood kicks into full blown awards season where “Loving” is expected to be a major contender.

The film, written and directed by Jeff Nichols (“Mud,” “Take Shelter”), is about the real-life couple Richard and Mildred Loving, who, despite yearning for a quiet, simple life, became accidental revolutionaries in their quest to raise a family together in their home state of Virginia.

In the summer of 1958, 10 days after they were married, a local sheriff and his deputies burst into the newlywed’s bedroom at 2 a.m. and arrested them. Richard Loving was white. Mildred Loving was African American and Native American, and their union violated Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Over the next nine years, the couple, exiled from the state, fought to get back. Their struggle culminated in the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

For Negga, who plays Mildred, not even a bad cold can diminish how privileged she feels to get to talk about the extraordinary story and her deep appreciation for what this unassuming couple did. Joel Edgerton, who plays the stoic and silent Richard, has a similar take. They’re both happy to have had a chance to be part of something that’s both art and of historical significance. That they’re also being singled out for their performances is almost beside the point.

“In my Australian way of deflecting any of those compliments, I’ll just say that it’s really great for the movie that people are talking about it. It just reflects how important it is and how well made it is,” Edgerton said.

The film was inspired by Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story,” comprised of archival footage of the couple at home, newscasts following pivotal court moments and intimate photos done by Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet. The documentary, available to stream on HBO, proved to be an invaluable resource for Negga and Edgerton too. They were able to study the people they were tasked with portraying and the relationship they’d be emulating.

Edgerton focused in on Richard’s silences _ what he might have been thinking, what they meant. He studied his eyes, in particular, which wandered as though he was always “looking for the door and looking for the way out of view of the camera.”

“In a bigger sense, he’s a guy looking for a way out of the whole thing, a way to will everybody to disappear or to find the back door where he can go through and their life can be simple, or the way it used to be,” Edgerton said. “Mildred was the one who got on her tippy toes and looked over the fence and had her eyes on the horizon of some sort of change and reached out about it. She was the leader.”

The heart of the film, however, and its power is in how Richard and Mildred are together.

“It’s quite special what they have. They actually liked each other. They liked being in each other’s company,” said Negga. “There’s no big romance cliches and pastiches and declarations of undying love. It’s very simple. Simple, but intimate and truthful.”

Nichols elevates the ordinary and creates empathy in showing the banalities of their everyday _ washing clothes, doing chores, playing and even settling down on the couch to watch television.

Now, with the election looming, the film is being touted as especially timely even if it is set a half century in the past.

“They weren’t people who thought they were special. They didn’t have a calling and they weren’t orators. They didn’t want to be in the limelight. In many ways they’re the every couple. And yet this couple reminds us that everyone has the capability to be extraordinary and to do extraordinary things,” said Negga. “We love Mildred and Richard and we’re so proud of what they achieved. We’re not Americans but we’re world inhabitants. We’re all in it together.”

A Holocaust denier is brought to justice in ‘Denial’

Mick Jackson’s Denial brings all the decorous polish of a British courtroom drama to the pungent libel case of a Holocaust denier.

Based on Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier, the film depicts when the unapologetically anti-Semitic historian David Irving brought a libel suit against Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier in one of her books.

Because of the nature of libel cases in the United Kingdom (where Irving filed the suit), the burden of proof is on the defender, not the plaintiff. Hovering constantly throughout the trial — which ran eight weeks — is the question: Is it worthwhile to expend so much energy on such a loathsome liar?

It’s a salient question with obvious relevance to a time where willful disregard for the truth increasingly runs rampant in national politics and social media streams, alike. Should trolls be taken to task or ignored?

Denial argues forcefully and convincingly for the vital necessity of confronting the perpetuation of dangerous falsehoods. It rises impressively to the wise and perhaps unpopular judgment that “not all opinions are equal.” This is an honorable cause if not a particularly dramatic movie.

Just as the legal team behind Lipstadt’s case brought a full array of firepower to the proceedings, so has Jackson in his film. The cast is littered with an impervious collection of British talent, in front of and behind the camera.

Rachel Weisz stars as the Queens-born Lipstadt. Her star-studded attorneys are barrister Richard Rampton (played by Tom Wilkinson) and solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), famed for securing Princess Diana’s divorce. Irving is played with snarling perfection by Timothy Spall. And the script is by playwright David Hare (The Reader, The Hours).

Irving sets things in motion when he turns up a speaking engagement of Lipstadt’s to heckle her from the audience. When he brings the lawsuit against her publisher, Penguin Books, the assembled legal team begins hashing out a strategy of how to argue history in a courtroom, how to prove the Holocaust.

What’s partly on trial, though, is the notoriously byzantine British court system, itself. “Dickensian not Kafkaesque” is what Lipstadt says she’s hoping for in her passage through its elaborate procedures.

Often, Lipstadt’s experience is a frustrating one as she — more emotional than her lawyers — clashes with the stringently logical Rampton. They together visit Auschwitz where he reacts bitterly to the lack of an extensive forensics record. Despite Lipstadt’s protests, the attorneys want neither her nor Holocaust survivors to take the stand to subject themselves to Irving’s questions. (Irving represented himself in the trial.)

These strategic debates aren’t much to hang a movie on, but the case doesn’t supply much else in terms of suspense. Denial is carried less by the normal theatrics of courtroom dramas than a staunch sense of duty to protect the truth. It’s an argument for the patient, methodical dismantling of fools.