LOS ANGELES – In Vox Lux, Natalie Portman plays a girl who survives a school shooting, sings a song about it and becomes a huge pop star.
But as the movie attempts to dissect modern celebrity and violence, it left many moviegoers scratching their heads and critics rolling their eyes. And with a 60 per cent score on the website Rotten Tomatoes, it is one of Oscar winner Portman’s worst-reviewed films in years, although her performance received praise in some quarters.
At a screening in Hollywood last December (2018), the actress and the film’s writer-director, Brady Corbet, addressed the polarised reactions to their movie, which opens in Singapore on Feb 28.
Corbet, 30, says he set out to “make a movie that was about the early part of the 21st century”. And one of the defining characteristics of this century is “the spectacle of evil”, explains Portman, 37.
“In this century, the pageantry of evil is that violence has become theatre, violence has become about making a show – making the news and getting on TV. It’s all merging in this awful way,” she says.
“When I read (the script) it was like, wow, that’s something I hadn’t really thought about – the collision between pop culture and political life and violence.”
A story about a pop star captures the dark side of fame and pop culture in a way that an actor’s story could not, she believes.
“I think pop stars, unlike actors, are presenting a version of themselves, so there’s more at stake in terms of their fame, because we really see their personal relationships and ups and downs,” says the star, who won the Best Actress Oscar for the psychological drama Black Swan (2010).
“We see their art as a representation of their inner life, whereas for actors, we always see them as separate from their roles.”
Corbet says it is no coincidence the story starts in 1999, the year of the Columbine school shooting in Colorado as well as the height of singer Britney Spears’ fame.
“I’m from Colorado and I lived there when Columbine happened,” says the film-maker, who is also an actor from movies such as Funny Games (2007).
“It cast a shadow over the last 20 years in this country,” he says, noting the many school shootings that have followed. “I think it is one of the defining moments of our era.”
Asked about how the film has divided audiences, Corbet concedes “it is a very unusual film”.
“I think there are a lot of things you are not allowed to do (in films) – you are not allowed to have dramatic tonal shifts from melodrama to dark comedy and tragedy.
“But I believe in order for the film to be emblematic of the defining events of the 21st century, it had to be all of those things – equal parts absurdist and very serious.”
The film opens with a shooting and concludes with a pop concert.
While acknowledging it is a “difficult pitch”, he adds: “But I think the juxtaposition of the two exists in the culture and news cycle already. And with the convergence of pop culture and policy, I felt it was important to make a movie this way.”
Corbet calls it an ambitious experiment and is glad that people have shown up to watch it.
“Even if people really don’t like the film, I’m really thankful they spent two hours with it because it is very unusual. So I hope the whole thing opens a viewer’s mind, or a part of it does. That’s the best you can do.”
Portman sees similarities between Vox Lux and her Oscar-winning film Black Swan, in that “both have an interest in performance and what it means to be someone who has a performative self versus a private self, and what that means”.
She was also drawn to the larger-than-life character she plays, Celeste, and the “incredible dialogue that Brady wrote” for her.
“It’s so extravagant, the stuff she says. It’s like nonsense to real insight and back to this garbage – she’s just all over the joint,” the actress says. “And goes from being all pretence to a moment of being genuine.
“It was really fun to get to play with it.”
Vox Lux opens Feb 28.
Source: The Straits Times
Category: Vox Lux
NATALIE Portman sets pulses racing as she strips down to a black bra in new movie Vox Lux.
The Oscar-winning actress, 37, sizzles in a sexy dressing room scene as she portrays eccentric pop diva Celeste in the psychodrama.
The star also goes full on Lady Gaga in a crystal-encrusted catsuit while delivering a show-stopping concert.
Proving herself to be quite the triple threat, Natalie also sings and dances in the movie.
Some of the moves are even the work of her long-time choreographer husband Benjamin Millepied.
Vox Lux follows the rise of Celeste from the ashes of a major national tragedy to pop superstardom.
The movie spans across 18 years, starting from when Celeste is a teenager caught up in a school shooting.
After singing an original song inspired by the event at a memorial service, her talent is quickly spotted by music execs and she becomes the next music sensation – but fame isn’t without its pitfalls.
Jude Law also stars as Celeste’s manager, while Willem Dafoe narrates the movie.
The soundtrack also boasts original songs written by Grammy-nominated artist Sia.
Rooney Mara was booked to play Celeste in September 2016 but was replaced by Natalie in January 2018.
Speaking ahead of Vox Lux’s release, Natalie said of the her latest role: “I like that she’s not like a tragic victim.
“She’s certainly a party to her own devouring. She’s both on the receiving end of destruction and also a destroyer herself. [The movie] takes a pretty dark view of the effects of fame, for sure.”
Source: The Sun
What is the price of success? This age-old question is one of the themes in this grandiose and portentous pop star fable starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law.
Written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Brady Corbet, whose debut The Childhood of a Leader was a sinister period nightmare awarded best director and best first feature at Venice in 2015, Vox Lux bears some resemblance to Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born — although twice as ambitious.
Cooper, after all, was not trying to talk about modern-day terrorism and the death throes of Western consumerism — just the loneliness of life at the top.
Corbet’s film is altogether more far-reaching.
While Childhood of a Leader was about characters bearing witness to some of the most disastrous moments of the early 20th century, Vox Lux is the same idea applied to our own era.
It begins with a “Prologue” title card, accompanied by ominous strings and Willem Dafoe’s voice-over introducing the protagonist, who we see in pastel home-video footage as a girl performing in a lounge room with a Christmas tree.
This is Celeste, and you’re made to understand trouble awaits her.
Corbet propels us next into a high school massacre — with jarring edits and unflinching violence — after which 14-year-old Celeste ends up with a bullet in her spine.
It’s the kind of shocking opening — misanthropic and coolly distant — that reminds you of a 21st-century Lars Von Trier (Dafoe’s narration underscores the impression).
Two more title cards, sectioning the film with biblical self-importance, “Genesis” and “Regenesis”, further cement this comparison.
The doe-eyed, pale-skinned Raffey Cassidy (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) plays Celeste in the first act, set in the late 1990s. She’s a suburban girl with a beautiful voice who’s catapulted to fame after a song she writes about the shooting with her sister (Stacy Martin) becomes a national hit, channelling the nation’s grief.
Jude Law plays her manager, the best character in the film, transforming from a strictly-business chaperone in the first half to an altogether more blurry manager/confidante in the second.
As an adult Celeste is played by Portman, an otherworldly beauty whose glamour is offset by a bratty, almost Jersey Shore vulgarity. In this section Cassidy plays her disaffected teen daughter.
Told with the right psychological nuance, this has the makings of quite a film.
But it’s clear Corbet has more on his mind than Celeste’s personal woes alone, and he pivots the story on the 9/11 attacks, whose aftershocks ricochet through his protagonist’s life in obviously symbolic ways.
Celeste goes from a fresh-faced teenager who’s a lightning rod for national pain, to a woman with a resentful streak, widely regarded with suspicion by the once-adoring public.
It’s a strange meld of macro and micro storytelling, in which Corbet is interrogating the act of myth-making — and how the news cycle turns on its heroes — while also asking questions about how America changed in the wake of 9/11.
He throws a tabloid scandal and another terrorist attack into the mix. Suddenly, Celeste has a PR crisis on her hands.
“I used to be treated like I was a hero,” complains Portman, with a similar anguish to her psychologically imploding ballet dancer in Black Swan.
On the eve of her character’s comeback tour for her new album, events conspire to derail her.
If you’re not quite sure what the film is saying, rest assured there are song lyrics to tell you. “I’m a private girl in a public world,” Celeste sings during the movie’s dreadfully shot concert finale (apparently real-life pop star Sia wrote material for the soundtrack, so not sure how this clanger made it through).
It’s a pity Corbet couldn’t dramatise this story of trauma and fame’s double-edged sword with more subtlety.
Portman, who gets an executive producer credit along with Law, is not the most multifaceted performer, and her part has been written in a way that’s mostly reactive, with not a lot to signal what’s going on beneath the surface. Corbet pushes some of Celeste’s most interesting dramas off screen, to be recounted in Dafoe’s gravelly narration, and we are left to fill in the gaps in her relationships with her family, manager and fans.
What does play out on screen is an interesting but never remarkable backstage drama in which Celeste and her manager try to manage family rifts, grapple with the media, get high and stagger to the gig.
The film’s central reference to 9/11 — and Celeste’s role as a symbol of American victimhood and exceptionalism — remains frustratingly underdeveloped, and sometimes banal.
Corbet’s film lacks the poetry or breathing space to make his statement more eloquently (a far superior film about consumerism, terrorism and youth culture is Nocturama, on Netflix). By the time his heroine is belting out her third-rate songs in a sequined jumpsuit, you can’t help but wish you’d stayed home.
Vox Lux is in cinemas from February 21.
Source: ABC News
“Pop stars are just so much more famous than actors,” says Natalie Portman. “It’s a different level of fame – of not being able to go anywhere and have people treat you like a regular person.”
We mere mortals might imagine Oscar-winning movie stars inhabit roughly the same exalted plane as chart-topping singers, but Portman insists not.
“The majority of my day is spent with people who have no idea who I am,” she says. “There are many places I go where I am just treated like another human being, and that’s the best thing. To have a kind, anonymous interaction with a stranger is the thing that gives you hope around humanity.”
Portman is expounding on the differences between these respective types of celebrity because in her latest film, Vox Lux, she plays a former teen pop star on the comeback trail.
“The opportunity to play a pop star was so fun,” she says of the film, which is part A Star is Born and part Bowling for Colombine.
It starts with a schoolroom massacre and ends with 15 minutes or so of concert footage, in which Portman’s single-name pop star Celeste struts her stuff in leotard and glitter make-up, flanked by dancers and singing her heart out.
Over a day and a half of shooting, they repeatedly filmed the entire concert scene, just down the road from her childhood home in Long Island. “We did it a lot, the whole 12 or 15 minutes of dancing, singing, everything together,” she says. “It was really hard but fun. I felt my age for sure.”
We first meet Celeste as a 13-year-old high-school student. She emerges from the shooting with a bullet permanently lodged in her spine and an urge to put her feelings about the situation into song, helped by her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin).
When she sings the song at a memorial service, she seems to encapsulate the nation’s grief. Soon, she’s signed to a record label, has a manager (Jude Law), and is on her way to being reshaped as a viable pop product.
The young Celeste is played by Raffey Cassidy, who resurfaces in the second half of the film, set 18 years later, as Albertine, daughter of the grown-up – and thoroughly messed-up – Celeste (Portman).
While Stacy Martin and Jude Law play the younger and older versions of their characters, Portman says writer-director Brady Corbet had two different actors play Celeste because he wanted to show how the music industry can take a person and transform them “into this whole different human being … [who] turns into this creation, a kind of monster”.
Did that aspect of the story have special resonance for Portman, who burst into the public eye as a 12-year-old in Luc Besson’s hitman drama Leon? After all, she has spoken recently about her experience of being exposed to the industry’s sexualisation of young women at such a tender age, and of receiving rape fantasy “fan mail” as a 13-year-old.
“I hope I’m not very similar to Celeste,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t feel very similar to her in my real life. And also I think the pop music and acting worlds are quite different.
“In pop you have this persona who is sort of an extension of your own personality, and in acting you’re really supposed to be very different. You’re more commended if you transform from what people perceive to be your real personality.”
Vox Lux is on limited release from Thursday February 21.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
“In the Envelope: An Awards Podcast” features intimate interviews with award-winning actors and other creatives. Join host and Awards Editor Jack Smart for a front row seat to the industry’s most exciting awards races, and valuable acting and career advice from contenders!
Today’s award-winning “In the Envelope” podcast guest needs no introduction, but we’ll try to give her one anyway.
Actor, producer, director, and activist Natalie Portman is one of Hollywood’s brightest talents. Born in Jerusalem, Israel, and raised in Long Island, New York, she burst onto the scene as a pre-teen in “Léon: The Professional” (after understudying in the Off-Broadway musical “Ruthless!”) and began relentlessly pursuing a life in the arts. As she tells Backstage, “when you’re that age, there’s just a pure love for what you’re doing…. If you’re an adult and wondering where your passion lies, think about what you loved when you were 11 years old.”
At the same time, however, Portman and her parents were sure to balance academics with what became a skyrocketing film career (she has famously said, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star”). While attending Harvard University, she used her summer breaks to star as Padmé Amidala in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy and work with Mike Nichols onstage after he saw her on Broadway in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She then began captivating audiences, critics, and awards voters with her choices on camera; “Garden State,” her Oscar-nominated “Closer,” “V for Vendetta,” her Oscar-winning “Black Swan,” the “Thor” films, her directorial debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” her Oscar and SAG-nominated “Jackie,” and many more projects that have defied expectations at every turn.
Last year proved to be another fascinating chapter in Portman’s filmography. In writer-director Alex Garland’s Paramount Pictures sci-fi thriller “Annihilation,” she delved into extraterrestrial, psychological nuance alongside Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. And in actor-turned-director Brady Corbet’s NEON drama “Vox Lux,” she played an explosive, damaged pop star opposite Jude Law and Raffey Cassidy. In this interview, Portman reveals the many factors that go into choosing and preparing for such roles, and discusses her veganism and advocacy work, particularly for the growing #TimesUp movement. (To donate to their legal defense fund, click here.) Also, if your audition game isn’t strong, you’ll want to hear how many jobs she’s booked through auditioning.