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 ♥ hated it . ♥♥ 'sok . ♥♥♥ liked it . ♥♥♥♥ loved it . ♥♥♥♥♥ will force you to watch it

***

Saturday
Jan082011

Black Swan

♥♥♥

I might think that this film is better than I consider it to be right now in a couple days time, so before that happens, let me just get all of this down.

I felt a little cheated. I had hoped for something with a little more psychological depth, but in the end he just pulled a lot of cheap horror film tricks. This is probably only because I had such high hopes for this, even though the trailer did look like the melodrama that this is.

It's stunning to look at, but seriously, it was always going to be at least that. You have Aronofsky, you have ballet and you have Natalie and Mila going at it, visually you've pretty much hit the trifecta. Visuals isn't enough anymore, Darren, I wanted more. In the words of Ryan A. Lloyd, the cinematography of this was a cross between the choppy hallucinogenic Requiem, and the shaky "realism" of The Wrestler. Infer from that whatever you will.

It was a tense film, in fact, the entire thing was teetering on a tightrope you're expecting to break underneath you at any moment. Maybe I've just seen too many psychological thrillers and can identify too many tricks, but it just left me feeling a little manipulated, and didn't bring anything new to the genre. A good psychological thriller is supposed to blow your mind a little bit, not leave you saying, "Well, that makes sense."

Natalie was very very good here. She turned out an excruciatingly fragile performance in Nina. She also did a lot of the dancing herself, which was very impressive. Now this is just a matter of taste and personal preference, but I don't care for fragility in my women, not unless it was backed by pain, which in this case was the other way around (the pain was kind of a direct result of the fragility). She was a 12 year old girl in a principle ballerina's body, it was exactly what the part called for, so there is absolutely no faulting her in that. She's always been pretty good, but nothing she has even done has ever blown me away, there's a lot of award buzz for her surrounding this performance, but for my money, I think she's still about 3 good films away from it. Although, Oscar and I haven't always seen eye to eye, especially with our women, so all the more power to her.

Mila Kunis as Lily is so much fun to watch, she really needs to be on my screen more often. She was the perfect counterpart to Portman. Full of sexual energy and so joyous. Maybe that's it, she was having so much fun doing this, whereas Portman looked tortured. I mean Portman the actress, she was just not having a very good time at all.

You know who really should be on my screen more often? Winona Ryder. I liked seeing her here, as little as she had to do. She was miss fragility too, but she did it with a little more bite.

Everyone seems to hate Vincent Cassel in this though, and I can kind of see why. But you know what? That pretty much is exactly what a European ballet director is like, all pomp and stance. The problem with his part is mostly the script, there wasn't much else he could do with that.

That's another problem with this film, there was so much unnecessary exposition. We've learned from The Fountain debacle that Darren is perhaps having trouble with the "less is more" concept, but god we get it! She's innocent and perfect for the white swan, but she doesn't have the darkness required for the black swan, there's not that much to get, stop beating us over the head with it. Nina's always dressed in white, Lily is always dressed in black, and they're made to look the same, ya think we can figure it out yet? Also, how many times does she need to see her own face in Lily? Old hat tricks, used too many times. I normally wouldn't care about this, as long as it brings SOMETHING new to the table. There's nothing here that Perfect Blue didn't do first, and with more depth. It still kind of gives me nightmares. Incidentally, the other acclaimed big movie of 2010 that I didn't love as much as the rest of the world, Inception, was also a less complex Paprika. We really lost someone amazing in Satoshi Kon. 2010 was a sad year.

Overall, I'm not saying this is a bad film, I just wanted so much more from it.

Sidenotes:

- Lesbian hate sex scene is really as great as they say it is, it's also online, do with that info as you will.

- Yeah, the ending is really what you thought it would be halfway through the movie.

- I think filmmakers are all fascinate by the same aspects of ballet, namely, the en pointe shoes and what dancers do with them. Every ballet film seems to have the same opening montage, meaning, you'll find at the start of this the exact same montage as in Center Stage.

- That seems like a pretty cool production of Swan Lake.

- Broken music box ballerina with nothing left but her legs, I don't think you could get any more heavy handed than that.

- This is not going to replace The Red Shoes as your go to epic ballet film.

- Epic ballet films = amazing makeup designs.

Thursday
Dec302010

Juliet, Naked

This book takes the honour of being the first novel I've been able to sit down and read all the way through, for about a year and a half. Having a roku box, a stack of plays beside my bed and the guilt of a theoretically good student meant that I've had trouble concentrating on something that can be considered a long-term commitment to a distraction. (Well a couple days at least, while a film just takes a couple hours. It all makes sense in my head I assure you)

This was exactly what I needed; it was contemporary, about people I understand, people who obsess over music and popular culture who fucks up relationships and over thinks about relationships. Oh yes, I knew them well. It was also nice to be in the company of people slightly older than me for a while. I don't think being friends with predominantly 20 year old actors was doing my head any good. This made me feel normal again, like I'm actually at the end of life that I really am at, closer to the starting line than the finishing.

Nick Hornby has such a friendly voice, in everything he writes. He doesn't try to trick you, it's not some test to see what you really know or if you're culturally relevant. He's not going to win you points with that mysterious Russian lit major who has very specific coffee orders, but you most definitely don't want to win points with him/her anyway, they're going to spend the entire relationship asserting that their tastes are better than yours but in the end you just realise that they weren't all that fun in the first place, but I'm getting off topic. No Hornby just tells you a good story, plainly and simply with a good sense of humour, and makes some pretty poignant observations on life along the way. There's quite honestly some great passages that, while they might not be the most original ideas, they were put together in ways I hadn't heard before. It talks about loneliness, and parenthood, it also says a lot about obsession, the maniac academic kind music fans has, the categorical collection of facts and trivia that they seem to prize even over the music itself.

The thing about Hornby's friendly voice is that, it's a very British one. Which is fine for all the British characters but there a few American characters in the book that say things which simply don't work with the American tongue. Believe me, I tried saying them in an American accent and they felt awkward. The 60s musician in him also sounds a little inauthentic. At least the track listings sound just a little too literal, a little inelegant.

You know what? It's a good read, and I'm glad it got me out of my rut.

Thursday
Dec302010

The Social Network

♥♥♥1/2

Let's get one thing straight here, every Aaron Sorkin character sound like every other Aaron Sorkin character. Apart from the strands of personality DNA the actor injects into whatever part they are playing, every single person on the West Wing, Studio 60 and everyone in this movie have the same witty sarcasm, rapid fire speech and that sense of humour you have to work a little harder to get.

I love it, I wish everyone did speak like that, but it is something worth noting.

There's another thing that should be mentioned; this is fiction. Since everyone and their grandmothers are going to be seeing this film (in its paved path to the red carpets in 2011), I thought I'd just re-enforce that fact. That these people existed, that a couple students in Harvard created this thing called facebook, and that there were several law suits settled out of court, these are true. Most of what happened in between was just good dramatic writing.

Now that all that is out of the way, let's talk about the film in its own merits. This is a vastly entertaining seudo courtroom drama. Ambition, betrayal, and enough sex, drugs and rock-'n-roll to make my previous paragraph unnecessary. (Although speaking to a few friends and mothers of friends, I realised that this was not a common fact. You do know that Mark and that girlfriend of his who supposedly dumped him at the start of the film, are actually still together, right? They never really broke up? And as cool as it was a plot device, I highly doubt getting into a final club was really a real motive for creating Facebook. Conjecture, really)

Jesse Eisenberg gave an icy, barbed tongued performance of a gawky and defensive kid. We all know how much Sorkin loves his biting one liners, and almost everything Mark had to say in this film were to shut people down. I don't think making him likable was a high priority in making this film. The character of Eduardo however was extremely sympathetic. Oh good, I get to talk about my darling Andrew Garfield for a little while.

He has kind of served as a straight Ben Whishaw for me. Both British, skinny and soft spoken, one a RADA grad (Ben) and the other trained at CSSD (Andrew). They both started with similar roots but is fast branching into very different career paths. His recent casting as Spider Man in the upcoming prequel has probably changed his career forever, but before all this hoopla he was doing quirky interesting things like the Red Riding trilogy and that other thing I blogged about. Consistently being being sensitive, charming, likable; and he was all that in this film too. He was the human element in a movie that desperately needed one. All good things.

All through the film I was thinking to myself who on earth are the boys playing the Winklevoss twins and why do they look so much alike? I mean I understand identical twins but I've known several in my life and most of them still look quite different to each other if you study their faces and the differences become more pronounced the older they get. Well it turns out I'm not insane, they were played by one man, one very handsome Armie Hammer. I've got my eye on you, Armie, you and your deep resonant voice and godly physique.

This is undoubtedly a good film, satisfying in all the ways a good film should be. The script is, as expected, sharp and cleaver. The story is gripping and has adequate elements of suspence. I can't help but feeling like this is a particularly well made episode of an Aaron Sorkin tv show though. Which, at the end of the day, isn't such a bad thing at all.

Sunday
Dec262010

Somewhere

♥♥♥1/2

Sofia Coppola's fixation on celebrity is not hard to understand. and all her films have more or less been exploring celebrity status in one way or another, with Marie Antoinette and this being the most heavy handed. That is not to say that they lack subtlety in any way, they just deal with the subject more directly.

As much as I hate the word auteur, she is in strong contention of being one of our most consistent modern auteurs of our generation. Her strong suite has always been creating moods and atmosphere, for that reason Somewhere has has the divine Miss Coppola written all over it; it's nonchalant, observant, precise with a natural flow, and the soundtrack is pretty smashing too. She draws very easy realistic performances out of her actors, nothing seemed pushed or redundant, which is especially impressive in the 12 year old Elle Fanning.

This is an easy film to like, and very much a mood piece. It might not be as memorable as something like Lost in Translation but it certainly shows a competent director expanding her vocabulary and growing steadily more confident with each film.

Sunday
Dec052010

Netflix Sundays: Nobody Knows

♥♥♥♥♥

Dare mo shiranai (2004) - Hirokazu Koreeda

~

Koreeda is fast outstripping Kim Ki-Duk in the ranks of my favourite contemporary Asian directors every time I dig into his canon. Consistently delivering considered, beautiful films (while Ki-Duk has been known to offer up some doozys even outside of his more commercial fare. Time, for instance).

This is a story of four very young children, "brought up", and I use the words lightly here, by a mother who is less despicable, than just careless. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that they are essentially abandoned in a small apartment, with no support than that of each other. The oldest boy, Akira who is 12, takes on the task of feeding and looking after his three younger siblings. It becomes a story of survival. There are echoes of Grave of the Fireflies here, in fact there are distinct allusions made to the 1988 Studio Ghibli animation when an entire scene was dedicated to the first time Akira takes Yuki, the youngest girl out of the apartment. When she tips out her last apollo strawberry choco from its box, mentions it's her last one, then decidedly pops it into her mouth, it was near identical to the way Setsuko saved her precious fruit drops in their can (Incidentally, Meiji produced both sweets, they're really taking the hit for sentimental candies in Cinematic Japan, and now I want to go to my nearest Asian grocer to get some). Even the image of Akira holding Yuki's hand while they walk down the hallway in her squeaky slippers, or the moment when the younger boy is chewing on paper that Akira made him spit out and the way he turned to continue sleeping, and the shot of Yuki's hand near the end of the film are all in direct reference to Grave. Am I suggesting you watch Grave of the Fireflies before this? Maybe a little.

The children are wonderful. The two younger ones are playful and full of appropriate joie de vivre, while the two older kids are quietly perceptive and considerate. Akira's eyes are especially amazing. This kid has the most beautiful eyes, and endlessly expressive. I say the film boils down to survival, but it really isn't as bleak as that. Just like Grave, it's about the children being children despite their ridiculous circumstances and the insane amount of responsibility the eldest has to take on. I don't want to go too deeply into scrutinizing every element of the film, because it just takes time away from you actually watching it. So do it, right here.

UPDATE: It wasn't just me who fell in love with Yūya Yagira's eyes, the boy won best actor at Cannes 2004 for this performance. Also I have just learned that this film was based on real incidents that are actually far more horrific, this film is positively peachy compared to that, which is kind of scary.

~

I want to watch solid films more regularly and write more reviews, which is why I'm creating Netflix Sundays. However since I'll be in Australia from next week, this clearly cannot happen until I come back late January. Watch this space.

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