Scene change, stream change 

click to enlarge pop star Natalie Portman plays a pop star with a tragic past in Vox Lux, opening this week.
  • pop star Natalie Portman plays a pop star with a tragic past in Vox Lux, opening this week.

Remember right after the last Super Bowl when Netflix dropped The Cloverfield Paradox? Out of the blue a streaming platform suddenly premiered a tie-in flick (some call it a sequel) to a J.J. Abrams-produced franchise. What was this Cloverfield Paradox?

It was a bit of a dud, for one thing, so not many people paid much attention. But now, close to a year later, the implications of that move are starting to become clearer.

Paramount Pictures recently announced that they are expanding their gameplan and will begin producing films for Netflix. The Cloverfield Paradox was apparently Paramount's test run (or clever way to dump a crappy movie), but they reteamed again on Alex Garland's Natalie Portman-vehicle Annihilation and more recently on Maniac and 13 Reasons Why.

This is significant. Paramount is one of the storied and venerable "Big Six" Hollywood film studios, the second oldest studio in America (fifth oldest in the world). This is a studio that made five Marx Brothers films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Titanic and way too many Transformers movies.

The Hollywood studios hate Netflix-style streaming; it cuts out too many middlemen and disrupts a system that's been in place since the start of the 1900s. Paramount's new focus on streaming platforms effectively means the studios admit the old way is done.

Fear not, there will still be movie theatres playing big, blockbuster spectacle films. (Only two of this year's top 25 films—so far—are original. The rest are based on comics, novels, sequels or other intellectual property. Only two new ideas!!!) But a move like this breathes new life into those smaller films, the ones that sneak up on you from nowhere and change your life for a while—the Mandys and the The Big Sicks of the world, the Demon Seeds and the Beautiful Girls. And while the film establishment/awards circuit (Cannes, the Oscars) continues to fight against the artistic validity of films released on a streaming platform, an original-six/Netflix team-up is a big move. Expect Disney and Warner Bros. to launch their own streaming services soon. The times, they are a-changing.

But they ain't changed yet, and we have fresh flicks at the Village 8 this week (I just don't know which exact ones because the listings didn't make it as far as my inbox) and Vox Lux is opening this week. Natalie Portman (Hotel Chevalier, Black Swan) stars as Celeste, an iconic pop star with a tragic past (her first hit came after surviving/processing a high-school shooting in her band class). Now a global icon, Celeste must navigate controversy, fame and her own personal demons.

This is the second feature film for director Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader), who began his career as an actor. He's swinging for the fences with this one and his ambition and vision makes for an interesting, if slightly undercooked, flick.

There's plenty to say about child stardom, arrested development and how society's obsession with celebrity, spectacle and sensationalism crushes the life out of both artist and art (there is a press junket scene that's spot on).

The music in Vox Lux comes from real-life star Sia, and the film is very visually interesting. As a director, Corbet visually digests influences like Gus Van Sant and Jonathan Demme to nice effect. Portman anchors the film with a typically strong performance of a woman torn, but the pieces don't ever quite add up to cinematic brilliance. (And Celeste's stage show could use a bit of work, some costume changes and a wind machine. One of the most compelling pop moments ever filmed occurred in the Katy Perry concert video All of Me, where Katy, dolled up in bubble gum and rainbows and mere seconds away from rising up onto the stage, breaks down in tears due to a failing marriage and hectic pop life. Like a pro, she breathes through it, cranks up a fake smile, and gets the job done. This one real scene out-humanizes much of Vox Lux.)

The Netflix stream of the week is Jim Jefferies: This is Me Now. Jefferies, a shit-talking Australian with a penchant for seeing the stupidity in everyday life, is best known for his bit on gun control (YouTube it).

In this, his 2018 show, he aims his sardonic sights on things like parenthood, marriage, deaf people, Mariah Carey, and especially, uncircumcised penises. It's definitely not for kids, but shit, Martha, it's funny. Netflix saved stand-up as well. The revolution WILL be televised.


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