Monday, December 2, 2013

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night Six: Natalie Portman

Put on your kippahs, it's still time for Hanukkah! Yeah, I prefer the perfectly good Hebrew word kippah to the Greek word yarmulke - no offense to the Greeks. The Greeks aren't exactly the heroes of the Hanukkah story, but we'll let the historians debate over whether the Maccabees' revolt was against the Seleucid Empire led by the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes or against a philosophy within Judaism itself that favored embracing Hellenistic culture.

So, about tonight's Hanukkah hottie:

There are about a million billion reasons to love Natalie Portman.

- She was born in Jerusalem and is a U.S.-Israeli dual citizen. She went to high school in Syosset, New York. I like to say "Syosset" because it sounds like it's in Parseltongue. Outside of her professional life, her family name is Hershlag.

- Her great-grandmother, a Romanian Jew, was a spy for the British during World War II.

- She has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Harvard.

- She was the producers' first choice to play Juliet in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, but eventually lost the part of Claire Danes because she was too young.

- She played Evey in V For Vendetta.

- She said this awesome feminist thing:

"I want [female characters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad - human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you're making a 'feminist' story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That's not feminist, that's macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with." Preach, sister.

Natalie Portman starred with Night 4 Hanukkah Hottie Kat Dennings in Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and with Night 5 Hanukkah Hottie Mila Kunis in Black Swan. (She was also in Your Highness with James Franco, but I didn't see it.)

But honestly, I've been impressed with Portman ever since Luc Besson's Leon, or The Professional. It was her first movie.

The next time I took note of her was as Amidala in the Star Wars prequel. I was obsessed with Star Wars when I was a kid. Now, I was born the same year the original film - Episode Four now - was released, and I was only 6 when The Empire Strikes Back come out, so I probably didn't see any of the movies until later in the '80s, when we got cable and/or a VCR. (Before that, we did have Episode Four on a projector reel, but it didn't have sound.) I do remember my R2D2 Underoos and being jealous of my friend Mark because he had plastic light sabres - we were probably fans of Star Wars without even having seen the movies when we were very young.

By contrast, when my niece Eira was four or so, she told me the entire story of Anakin Skywalker, from his birth to his death. She used to watch a Star Wars movie or two every night while she was falling asleep.

So in 1999, I was excited to see Episode One: The Phantom Menace, more from nostalgia than from anything else. How could it not be great? But then when my brother and I went to see it in the theater - meh, not that great. But that was not Natalie Portman's fault.

At one time, Portman was slated to play Elizabeth Bennett in the film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but she has since dropped out. :( It is really too bad, because she would have made an awesome ninja Lizzie.

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