Skip to main content

Commanding Female Roles: Destroyer and Vox Lux

Powerhouse Female Roles: Destroyer, Vox Lux
This year’s last week of January has been a change from the past dozen or so when I would be binging on exciting new movies at the Sundance film festival, my favorite festival experience.
I miss that special atmosphere but am keeping tabs on the offerings generating the most buzz and worth watching out for during the year.
In the meantime let me recommend a couple of recent releases featuring powerhouse female performances that command attention even if overlooked for Oscar nominations in a competitive year.

Destroyer (U.S.
Nicole Kidman won her best actress Oscar back in 2003 for her transformative role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. In director Karyn Kusama’s bleak crime drama, Kidman’s psycho-physical transformation is if anything greater and considerably less glamorous, akin to that of Charlize Theron as a serial killer in Monster.  Kidman plays Erin Bell, an alcoholic, hard-bitten Los Angeles police detective estranged from a rebellious teenage daughter and an ex-husband Ethan (Scoot McNairy, also seen in the latest HBO “True Detective” series).  Seventeen years earlier Erin was undercover with FBI agent Chris (Sebastian Stan) in a criminal bank-robbing gang led by the ruthless Silas (Tobby Kebell) and female sidekick Petra (Canadian Tatiana Maslany). Playing a couple, Erin and Chris became one; then temptation entered her mind until thwarted  when a heist gone terribly wrong had lethal consequences she’s had to live with.    
            That past is reawakened when Erin is sent a dye-coloured greenback from that robbery, knows it is from Silas, and decides she must settle the score.  It’s what’s been destroyed in her that turns her into a destroyer. Kidman is at the top of her game, turning in one tough performance in a movie as dark and gritty as they come.  B+
 From writer-director Brady Corbet comes a tale of exceptional rise to pop stardom far more original, culturally challenging, and chilling, than Bradley Cooper’s more mainstream remake of A Star is Born.
With chronological chapters of the story arc narrated by an offscreen Willem Dafoe, the movie begins before the turn of the millennium in an American town called New Brighton. In a horrific sequence the teenage Celeste (Raffey Cassedy) suffers a spinal injury in a school shooting of which she is her class’s sole survivor. Coached by older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) Celeste sings a song at a memorial that touches a chord and becomes a comforting anthemic hit. Her sentimentality taps into a zeitgeist that carries forward post 9/11 and propels her career upward abetted by an ambitious manager (Jude Law) and publicist (Jennifer Ehle). 
            Fast forward to 2017 and Celeste—now played by Natalie Portman—has become a high-living chart-topping pop diva, adored by millions but prone to the addictions and anxieties of stardom that strain her relationships with all around her, including her sister and her own teenage daughter. Preparing for a return-to-hometown concert, Celeste becomes embroiled in a social-media storm when a Croatian beachfront is attacked by terrorists wearing masks apparently inspired by one of her video hits. As the back-stage tensions mount Celeste is momentarily overwhelmed but pulls it together for a sensational finale.  Call it overwrought and melodramatic, but Portman is terrific in the role and brings it off with a style that even Lady Gaga might admire.  B+         


Popular posts from this blog

Best of 2018: My Choices for the Best Dramas and Documentaries

The Best of 2018 Notwithstanding the popularity of at-home streaming services led by Netflix, movie-going to theatres is not declining.Indeed in 2018 North American attendance is up with a record box office of almost US$12 billion. Even if much of this is for tentpole blockbusters centred on comic characters, the big screen appeals more broadly.Take the case of my best movie of the year, the Spanish-language Roma.A Netflix production available online since December 14, the large Ottawa theatre where I saw it a second time was still packed for a post-Christmas showing in a 10-day run. Good news indeed.
10 Best Narrative Features 1.Roma (Mexico/U.S.) Viewed on the big screen the immersive luminous black-and-white cinematography and ambient soundscape is even more impressive in this semi-autobiographical masterwork from Alfonso Cuarón which features a sublime performance by first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio as the central figure of Cleo, the Indigenous nanny-housemaid in an upper-class Mexi…

Upcoming Book: The Best of Screenings & Meanings: A Journey through Film

“The art of filmmaking is the most influential form of art that has ever existed throughout the history of human artistic endeavors.”  ~ ABHIJIT NASKAR, THE FILM TESTAMENT

The Best of Screenings & Meanings: A Journey through Film The conclusion of my weekly Screenings & Meanings columns has prompted me to put together an anthology drawn from 35 years of film comment along with some new material specifically for this volume.  Watch for the volume to become available soon. 

Blog Posts for 2018

September: The Human Condition My most recent peak cinematic experience was in the last days of August at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox, home base of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which starts September 6. (I’ll be seeing about 25 films at this year’s edition. That’s for a later blog.) This was the screening over three days—August 25, 26, and 28—of the monumental Japanese masterwork The Human Condition directed by Masaki Kobayashi and released as three two-part films—No Greater Love, Road to Eternity, A Soldier’s Prayer—from 1959 to 1961. Presented as part of TIFF’s “Summer in Japan” series, this was a rare chance to take in a theatrical showing of one of the greatest achievements of Japanese cinema. The timing also coincided with the 80th birthday on August 28 of a longtime Ottawa friend George Wright whose son Roger and family with two young granddaughters live in Tokyo. Bring…