Black Swan

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

“Black Swan” is what I consider to be a “performance film” in which the lead character or characters drive the actual film. I also call these film “Actor films” because the reason you watch the film is for the performance of the actor, not necessarily for the plot. Recent examples of this would include “Crazy Heart” and “The Wrestler”, Darren Aronofsky’s previous film. It’s not that the film is bad or underwhelming. But the strength is in the performance, and in “Black Swan”, this is Natalie Portman’s dime and dance floor. In this case, she’s wearing ballet shoes. And my oh my, does she own the screen.

The story itself lays itself parallel with “Swan Lake”, the ballet that her character, Nina, has been chosen to play the lead of. As the Swan Queen, her character undergoes a metamorphosis from being the frail, fragile White Swan to the more sinister and seductive Black Swan. Nina represents the White Swan perfectly; but she cannot pull off the sensuality of the Black Swan. She is given an alternate (or understudy) named Erica (played nicely by Mila Kunis) and Nina’s paranoia of losing her spot to this girl, who perfects the Black Swan persona, drives her deeper into madness as the film progresses.

The visuals and symbols are nice but they’re very obvious and predictable. It’s a very familiar story. After all, it’s “Swan Lake”. The music numbers are instantly recognizable even if you’re not into ballet at all. The film moves at a fairly good pace; Aronofsky knows what you want to see. And yes, the scene between Kunis and Portman is highly stimulating.

The film is just fine; but it’s Portman’s masterful performance as the quivering and scared Nina and her transformation into the dark, angry and volatile Nina. Her range is fantastic and she shines through and makes this film seem better than it is. This is her moment, and she will definitely be the front runner for Best Actress this year.

Looking at Aronofsky’s last two films, I still think “The Wrestler” is a better picture because it does take a more creative angle while this film stays completely within the bookends of “Swan Lake” and doesn’t transcend anything else. You can follow Nina’s journey knowing exactly what will happen. The suspense scenes draw very little excitement and the climax is anticipated without too much fervor. There are, however, some fantasy scenes involving some self-inflicted wounds that are a bit hard to watch.

Overall, it’s a must see picture only because of Portman’s achievement here. The film is fine; but without her, I don’t think it’s something you have to see. Portman carries this movie over the edge, the way Will Smith did with “I Am Legend”. This is a far superior film to “I Am Legend”, but sometimes just to see an actor at their best is worth the price of admission regardless.

My rating: :-)

The Hangover

June 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“The Hangover” did look a lot like “Very Bad Things”–but they are two completely different movies. Where “Very Bad Things” is a dark comedy about the depravity of humanity (who knew Peter Berg was so disturbed?), “The Hangover” is a light screwball comedy that, while it does have some “shock” moments, never lets up its shiny disposition that you should have fun with it. It’s a misadventure.

And, probably one that I should’ve encountered sometime in my life while drunkenly wandering the streets of the south side of Chicago. But somehow, by unbelievable luck–I survived without having to go through the ordeals these poor guys have to. And “The Hangover” is everybody’s worst nightmare come true when you go balls out and get wasted–and in a town like Vegas, so much can happen.

So it was, from the start, a win-win situation, as long as the writers realized how much material they had to work with. I think they got it. I think there could have been more, but I think they got enough of it.

This is helped in large part to Zach Galifianakis’s deadpan, strange, and off-the-wall performance where there’s just so much honesty in his eyes, you can’t help but laugh at everything he says and does. There are also just some laugh out loud moments in the film, some of which you feel guilty laughing about.

Overall the movie does work, but I have to gripe about a few things that didn’t work for me: what was the point of the car meaning so much to the dad? It didn’t add any stakes as we all are aware the car was pretty valuable–and, it was already stated in the beginning that he didn’t want anybody driving it but Doug. It just seemed unnecessary for the repeated lines of “Dad is going to be so mad about the car!”. Didn’t add anything at all. But that’s small, it didn’t annoy me. The chicken. What was with the chicken? It wasn’t even a funny prop. The tiger at least had a pay off and was amusing. I didn’t buy the connection Stu made with ruffies having to do with where Doug was. That was weak to me.

But the biggest problem I had was the ending. Once they found Doug, that was it. There was nothing left on the table. It was a huge dip in the energy of the film, and I just felt that the whole wedding sequence was severely drawn out. And the wedding band? Um…yeah–we KINDA saw that in…”Old School”? It was eye-roll inducing to say the least. I understand they wanted to conclude stuff with Stu and his girlfriend but they could’ve done that in a much quicker way. We don’t care enough about these characters to sit through the ceremonies. Once they had found Doug, and they were headed back to the wedding, you need to end the movie in 5 minutes or less.

Going back to the characters for a moment–while misadventures don’t often allow for a lot of character development, because they wanted to treat this as sort of a buddy movie as well as a screwball comedy, it didn’t work as well because the characters were very thinly drawn. It was as though they just borrowed stereotypes from other movies about bachelor parties and gave them the run-of-the-mill standard personalities. And the weird thing was, they didn’t even act out accordingly a lot of the time. Because Allen (Zach) was such a strong presence, the other characters seemed to spend most of their time just trying to figure him out rather than being who they were. And Doug was a complete non-entity. We had no idea why these guys were friends to begin with. They could’ve used a scene or two to establish their history.

The ending credits were probably the funniest part, and that’s not exactly the best time to have the biggest laughs. But I will give credit–they were hysterical.

Overall, it’s a good time and it’s a fun movie. Yes, obviously when you break it down, it falls a part a little bit more. But I’ve laid out stuff in this review that’s really not even necessary–but I couldn’t get it off my mind. Don’t worry, I am recommending this film and I did enjoy it. But I had to call out the weaknesses.

My rating: :-)