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 Wrestler

February 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Do you ever wonder about what goes on in the lives of professional wrestlers? Ever pondered what it was like behind closed doors for guys like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, or Stone Cold Steve Austin?

Me neither, but this movie made me care just a little bit more. Now that may not be saying much, but for what it’s worth, this is a film that at least deserves a viewing, and perhaps illustrates a profession that isn’t as useless as some of us may think. Then again, maybe not. I guess I’m feeling rather dubious today.

“The Wrestler”, in some ways, reminded me of “Raging Bull”. The opening sequence shows the glory days of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, and then the film opens up with the usual “20 Years Later”, and he’s a broken down man who works at a food mart and still does weekend shows for some extra scratch, just trying to make ends meet, and recapture old glory.

There is nothing we haven’t seen here before with the dark side of an athlete’s life–although I did enjoy some of the credit given to these guys who are trying to make a living, and aren’t the big celebrities such as “The Rock”. They have pretty lame names, and they do actually beat the living daylights out of each other at times. There’s a pretty bloody and gritty match that “The Ram” gets involved with, which leads to his ultimate “life-changing” decision to retire, and that’s when he suffers a heart attack.

At first he doesn’t want to retire, but after trying to reconnect with his daughter thanks to the advice of his regular stripper-friend (played quite well by Marissa Tomei, and quite…nude), he decides to settle down a bit. But as it turns out, his daughter hates him and the one chance he has to redeem himself by taking her out to dinner, he blows it on cheap sex with a slut with a Fireman fetish (probably the funniest sequence in the whole film).

And of course, that’s what this movie is about. It’s all about being too late to change things, and faded dreams that never will be reached again. It’s a fairly predictable film but it’s saved by its quirky approach and the absolutely powerful and commanding performance by Mickey Rourke. He steals the show completely–and he just knows how to make you feel his pain just with a crack of his lips and the croak of his broken voice.

Despite that this is quite a depressing film, there are some funny bits in it. There’s a great scene in a deli that he’s picked up hours for, in which he sort of relives some “charisma” and shows how he “plays to an audience” while slicing up deli meats and sealing up penne pasta and egg salad. There’s also an amusing scene of him playing Nintendo with a kid who makes no bones that playing this wrestling game is “an old game”.

An old game can sum up this movie’s plot and the character development as well, but it’s unfair to put down a film that’s at least earnest and deeply involved with its protagonist, even if what he does for a living can be a cheap and shoddy profession. It’s still something you can actually admire, if you think about it.

My rating: :smile: