“Life During Wartime” – 2009. Dir. Todd Solondz

With Allison Janey, Michael Lerner, Dylan Riley Snyder, Ally Sheedy, Shirley Henderson, Michael K. Williams with Paul Reubens with Charlotte Rampling and Ciaran Hinds

“I’m sorry I said you were shit and I was champagne.” – Andy (Paul Reubens)

Man, how does one even begin to review a Todd Solondz film? Better yet – how does one even begin to review a Todd Solondz film that’s a sequel to his masterpiece “Happiness”? “Life During Wartime” has to be one of the most imaginative and inventive sequels that I’ve seen. Most of the characters from “Happiness” do appear in this film, but the catch is this film has an entirely different cast.

As in “Happiness”, this film at its core revolves around three sisters who are all confused – and for that matter – are all fucked up. Joy (Shirley Henderson – Jane Adams in “Happiness”) is the “innocent” and “good natured” Joy who in reality does nothing but hurt people. She’s so dumb and “good natured” to realize what she’s actually doing.

While Joy married Allen, who has the most radical transformation between the frumpy Phillip Seymour Hoffman from “Happiness” to Michael K. Williams a scared black gangbangerish creeper in the new film, she has frequent visits from the deceased Andy (Paul Reubens – Jon Lovitz in “Happiness”) who had killed himself because Joy broke his heart.

Andy is very gentle at first, as Joy tells him how guilty she feels, how horrible she feels for breaking his heart – and then when Andy asks if she’d like to try again, she coldly shuts him down by insulting him and demeaning him.

Trish (Allison Janey – Cynthia Stevenson in “Happiness”) is struggling to find normality while she raises Timmy and Billy (who is off at college now) on her own, while her husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds – Dylan Walsh in “Happiness”) is just being released from prison for sexually molesting one of Billy’s friends when they were young boys.

Trish has begun dating Harvey Wiener (Michael Lerner – and yes, the name makes me laugh), who is a divorcee and as Trish calls him, “normal”. They’re relationship grows, but as Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) questions Trish more about his father – things become confused with Timmy and he assumes the role of man of the house.

Helen (Ally Sheedy – Lara Flynn Boyle in “Happiness”) is an introverted, alcoholic screen writer that is still a snide bitch, and very paranoid by her surroundings. Joy has always looked up to Helen, and always sought out her advice – which makes sense since Joy is just as snide and introverted.

While all these actors (minus Michael Learner and Charlotte Rampling) are playing characters that have already been established, they bring their own to the role they’ve assumed. Aside from Allen being the most drastic transformation I felt that Ciaran Hinds take on Bill was much different from Dylan Walsh’s.

While the character of Bill is a child rapist, when Walsh played him he wasn’t menacing, and you somehow found a way to like him. With Hinds’ performance, I do “like” his character, but he is more menacing – particularly due to his physical appearance.

This film isn’t as visually disturbing as “Happiness”, it still is disturbing. Many events in the film are as uncomfortable as ever, but you still find away to laugh. Whether it be disbelieve in the events on screen, or a simple dialogue exchange Solondz has impeccable humor and comedic timing that he brings to his screenplays.

If you can decode the film enough, it’s a very interesting look at the human condition, and how forgiveness is a very powerful tool, and how we are all so misunderstood and so misguided through life. This film is not for everyone and for that matter; Todd Solondz’s films in general are not for everyone. While the ending of the first film had an almost heartwarming feel to it, Solondz pulls the rug from under our feet in “Life During Wartime” and breaks our hearts. Well, at least he broke mine. This is one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

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“Casino Jack” – 2010. Dir. George Hickenlooper

With Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene and Maury Chaykin

“Mr. President, how are you?”

The story of “Casino Jack” is an important story, it tells the tale of Jack Abramoff who was the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and influenced many Republican politicians by bribing them with money, trips, women – anything he could to pass conservative legislation. The most prominent relationship Abramoff had was with House Majority Leader Tom Delay – R, TX (who’s not in jail) and President George W. Bush.

While this film deals with the peak and downfall of Abramoff’s career, it’s just a terrible film. Kevin Spacey plays Abramoff but instead of playing a character Spacey plays a variation of himself. Spacey performs many impressions (which is known for in real life, and is excellent at) including Bill Clinton, Al Pacino, Ronald Regan and Dolph Lundgren (no, I’m not making that up).

I had a real problem believing how true Spacey’s performance was to the real Jack Abramoff. I’m a political junkie and I remember watching the TV coverage of the Abramoff hearings, and the Jack Abramoff I saw was reserved and tight lipped. Spacey’s Abramoff is eccentric, loud and has a gigantic personality. So in other words, it’s just Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey.

The fact that Spacey got nominated for a Golden Globe for an Actor in a Musical/Comedy is a joke and just goes to show that the Golden Globes are a joke and hold zero water. First off, this film isn’t a comedy, even though Spacey’s performance can be, at time, “comedic” if that’s what you want to call it.

The supporting cast is lukewarm. Kelly Preston shows up as Abramoff’s wife and she really doesn’t do much except nod her head and smile. Jon Lovitz plays a business man that Abramoff entices to pull a swindle between a Greek Casino owner and the Native American reservations that Abramoff is milking for millions of dollars.

The only salvation of this pathetically terrible film is Barry Pepper who plays Abramoff’s protégé Michael Scanlon who is Abramoff’s go to man for everything. Pepper seemed to be the only one to actually touch upon his talent as an actor, instead of just walking through his role that Kevin Spacey has become a master of lately.

My biggest frustration with the film is that I really question the authenticity of the facts and events of the film. Most of the major events of the film appear to be correct, but the dialogue between characters and interactions between characters don’t jive with me man.

I knew the film wasn’t going to be great, but the late George Hickenlooper directed one of my favorite films ever, “The Big Brass Ring”. His direction is just plain bad. The films flow is interrupted by choppy editing, a horrible screenplay and poor acting.  Hickenlooper’s biggest mistake is letting the film rest upon Spacey’s performance – which isn’t very good – at all.   This film is like one bad SNL skit that lasts and hour and forty minutes.

Rating: 2.5/10

“True Grit” – 2010. Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

With Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper, with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin

“What do you plan to do?”

“I aim to kill you in a minute.”

I’ve been exposed to John Wayne more than most of my generation. My Dad is obsessed with John Wayne, and I grew up watching “The Searchers”, “Red River”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “Fort Apache”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “The Shootist”, “Rio Grand” and “True Grit”. “True Grit” was the film Wayne won his sole Best Actor Oscar, creating much fuss since Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman were both nominated for “Midnight Cowboy”.

Anyone who considers “True Grit” a classic Wayne film is an idiot. The original “True Grit” is a bad film. Wayne is solid in it (though he did not deserve his Oscar for that film – it was a “career” Oscar). The supporting players of Glen Campbell who plays La Boeuf (Matt Damon in the current film) and Kim Darby who plays Mattie (played by Hailee Steifeld in the new film) are fucking terrible. So terrible they ruin the movie. The original is just a terrible, terrible film.

The new version of “True Grit” by Joel and Ethan Coen is their new masterpiece. Jeff Bridges plays our U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn who is an alcoholic, shoot first and ask questions later bad ass. New comer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, whose father is killed by ranch hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and Mattie enlists Cogburn to track Chaney down, and bring him to justice.

Matt Damon plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf who has been on Chaney’s trail all the way from Texas (the film takes plays in Arkansas). Together Mattie, LaBoeuf and Cogburn trek into apache territory to bring back Chaney who they believe is running with a gang of bandits lead by “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).

The Coen Brothers deliver us another instant classic. They’ve flirted with making a western before, with their western noir films like “Raising Arizona”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Simple”. This is a western that would have made John Ford and John Huston proud. This film stacks up against “Tombstone” and “Unforgiven” and is better than both of them, this film is great.

Aside from this seeming like a generic western, the Coen Brothers create this almost haunting “backwoods” western. It feels rough, looks rough – and isn’t very settling. It’s not a Hollywood western – it feels authentic.

Hailee Steinfeld is astounding in the film. She dominates the screen, and when she’s toe to toe with Bridges, or Damon, or Brolin – she holds her own, and holds her own well. She gives a command performance that needs to be recognized. She seems to be picking up steam in the Best Supporting Actress category, but she is the clear lead in the film. All the other characters are supporting to her because the story of “True Grit” is about Mattie, not Cogburn. She should really win Best Actress, but I doubt it’ll happen.

The role of Mattie Ross requires a performance of the highest caliber. She’s a strong and very independent girl. She is the heart and soul of the film. I almost think that this is a role that Ellen Page would have lobbied for really, really hard (if she did play the part of Mattie, it would make me hate such a perfect film).

Matt Damon gives a quality performance, and while it’s not his “best” performance it might just be my favorite. I like the fact that Damon is an A list star, and can pick and choose his roles – but he decided to take a backseat to Steinfeld and Bridges, that shows a plethora of character of Damon.

Barry Pepper portrays “Lucky” Ned Pepper, who Robert Duvall played in the original film. I’ve never liked when actors do impressions. Even when they play the same character in a franchise – notably DeNiro/Brando in the Godfather films, I think DeNiro made the role his own while showing homage to Brando – but I felt that Pepper does the best Robert Duvall impression I’ve ever seen, and he rocked the role.

Josh Brolin gives a standout backseat performance in this film, he’s such a remarkable actor. He gives a reserved and very surreal performance. He seems like a bumbling fool, but he hisses and sneers his lines of dialogue, its fun to watch. I can’t even believe that this is the same actor who played the “bad guy” in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” which came out a couple of months ago. I don’t know if Brolin is a method actor, but whatever method he does use works, and works incredibly well.

As for Jeff Bridges…

Okay look, if you know me, or frequent my blog, you all know that I have a bias for Jeff Bridges. I think he’s an incredible actor and one of the finest actors ever. But, I don’t let my bias get in the way of my thought process. The Dude is not my favorite Bridges performance, and I don’t think he should have won for “Crazy Heart”, Colin Firth should have for “A Single Man”.

This year it seems like Firth is going to win for “The King’s Speech”. I think Firth gives another incredible performance, and he’s amazing in “The King’s Speech”. But if he wins this year, I think he and Bridges should exchange Oscars, because Jeff Bridges gives the performance of the year. He is truly awe inspiring.

This really was a risky role for Bridges to take. First of all, he was playing a part that was made iconic by John Wayne, and the second was that he just got done playing a bloated over the hill cowboy in “Crazy Heart”. Not for one second does Bad Blake bleed into Rooster Cogburn. We watch Cogburn go through drunken stupors, sober up and even save the day. Bridges makes this role his own, with no help from anyone. Bridges is the fucking MAN!

The climactic shoot out at the end of the film literally had me tense and on the edge of my seat. I knew what was going to happen, I’d seen the original film many times, I knew what the story was, where it went and how it went, but I can’t tell you this enough, this film had sunken into me from the opening narration.

Rating: 9.5/10

“The Fighter” – 2010. Dir. David O. Russell


With Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Mickey O’Keefe with Jack McGee and Melissa Leo

 

Executive Produced by Darren Aronofsky

“Mickey has a chance to do something that I never did and he needs me.” – Dickie (Christian Bale)

I didn’t have high expectations for “The Fighter”, I had seen that Christian Bale was picking up almost every Best Supporting Actor award in almost every film critics circle, and I thought that we he was probably really good (when isn’t he?) but a part of me thought that this was because Bale was long overdue.

This film is a fact-based story of Mickey “The Irish” Ward (Wahlberg) who was an aging armature boxer who was being trained by his crack addicted once semi-famous boxer brother Dickie Eklund (Bale) and a police sergeant Mickey O’Keefe (who plays himself) and managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo). Mickey is a construction worker who has never given his dream of becoming a professional boxer up.

Mickey doesn’t seem to have a proper direction or guide. While Dickie’s knowledge of boxing, and boxing strategy is vast, the fact that Dickie is a crackhead comes in the way of Mickey pursuing his dream. Alice tries to set her son up with matches, and tries her best for Mickey, she just can’t quiet cut it as Mickey’s manager, and she relies too much on Dickie’s input – not Mickey’s.

It isn’t until Mickey meets a bartender Charlene (Adams), that he begins to find his center; he finds the undying support that lacks from his mother and brother. “The Fighter” is not only a wonderfully executed inspirational story – it also brings the “sports” film genre back with style and perfect execution.

This film is astounding on so many different levels. Aside from the cliché – yet inspiring story – the film has a perfect, and I mean perfect core cast. While watching Mickey fight and struggle and be pushed and pulled by Charlene, Alice and Dickie – its astounding to watch Wahlberg display his range and talent as an actor; Wahlberg delivers his heart and soul in this film, marking this his finest performance.

Melissa Leo is incredible as the matriarch of the Ward/Eklund clan (that also includes seven sisters). She plays the ultimate bitch character that you love to hate and hate to love. There are moments in the film where she will drive you insane. As an only child, I could only imagine a bigger family with many siblings, and how each family has their “favorite” child. In the Ward/Eklund clan, the favorite is Dickie. Leo gives such a great performance in this film; I can’t imagine anyone beating her for Best Supporting Actress.

Amy Adams shows us a different side of her. In this film she plays the slightly trashy, foul mouthed and loosely dressed Charlene. She gives a wonderful performance too. Adams is very brave to take on this role (much like Anne Hathaway was in “Brokeback Mountain” and “Rachel Getting Married”), she’s notably known for playing the innocent good girl, but in this film she leaves nothing behind, and she gives an Academy Award winning performance as well.

As for Christian Bale…WOW. Look, I saw “The King’s Speech” right before seeing this film, and I was all about Geoffrey Rush winning for the film, he’s amazing, Rush was excellent and even though I knew Bale was winning all these Critics awards, I couldn’t imagine Bale being better than Rush. I was wrong. Bale gives one of the most carefully crafter and heartbreaking performances I’ve seen.

Bale is a tour-de-force always. Every single role he takes on, he transforms himself into the character. He has the unique ability to dissolve into his characters – the same ability that Daniel Day-Lewis has. Bale lost all the weight he had previously put on for “The Dark Knight” to fit into the slinky and gaunt crack addicted frame of Dickie. He didn’t transform his body as much as he did for “The Machinist”, but it’s pretty damn close.

While the rest of the performers in the film are excellent – even boarding amazing – Bale is the one to marvel in this film. Every single movement, facial expression and line of dialogue delivered by Bale is an incredible showboat of a performance of one of the best method actors working today. There is no way he can’t win Best Supporting Actor. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be one of the biggest Academy crimes ever committed.

Bale physically immersed himself so deeply, altering his hair, altering his teeth – it’s nothing less than complete dedication to his craft. He is one of the finest actors of any generation of any era of film. This guy carefully picks his roles so carefully; it’s something to be admired.

The transformation of Christina Bale is a transformation that reminds me much of a younger Robert De Niro, especially thinking of her performances in “Raging Bull” and “Cape Fear” and I would even go as so far to say this is comparable to Brando’s transformation in “The Godfather”.

This film is not only one of the most well acted films of the year, and one of the best films of the year – it’s also the greatest boxing film ever made. Yes, it’s better than “The Champ”, “Million Dollar Baby”, and “Rocky” and yes, even “Raging Bull”.

Rating: 10/10

“The King’s Speech” – 2010. Dir. Tom Hooper.

With Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi with Guy Pearce and Michael Gambon.

“Do you know any jokes?”

“T…t…timing isn’t really my strong suit.”

Colin Firth gives a tour-de-force performance as stammering Duke of York (then soon to be King) in Tom Hooper’s incredible “The King’s Speech”. The astounding Geoffrey Rush portrays Lionel Logue a speech therapist that the Duke’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) found in the classified ads. The Duke is being slightly groomed by his father, the King (Michael Gambon), because the eldest son Edward (Guy Peace) isn’t at all capable of being King.

The King dies, and Edward is appointed King. The world is on the brink of the Second World War. While Winston Churchill meets with the Duke about England being on the heels of war with Germany, Edward is gallivanting around with his twice divorced American mistress.

Edward decides to marry his mistress, and doing so, he would have to resign his title as King (since he is the head of the Church, and the Church doesn’t recognize divorce). This leaves the Duke of York to become King George IV. Deep down inside, I feel that George knew this was who he needed to be.

Lionel (Rush) had been working with King George prior to him taking the throne, but now the game has changed – the public is weary of George due to his stammer which they think is a direct reflection of his leadership skills. George needs to deliver a speech to address the nation about declaring war on Germany.

This film is the perfect combination of an epic period piece and a very small character study. The film’s script is impeccable, the sets and costume designs are perfect, and the acting is astounding. The scenes between Rush and Firth is what the film thrives on, but Firth gives yet again, the year’s best performance (last years of course was “A Single Man”).

It’s really a marvel to watch Firth work, everything he does seems so effortless, but considering he is playing a very, very important historical character (no less a King!) – he must have felt so much pressure and must have been so cautious to give the correct performance. I mean, he does play the father of England’s current Queen.

The screenplay to this film is so sharp and so fresh and I think this is the film that will beat “Inception” for Original Screenplay. After viewing this film, I was confident that Geoffrey Rush was bound to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar but that I saw “The Fighter” right after this.

This is an epic film, and while I still feel “The Black Swan” is the film of the year, “The King’s Speech” is pretty fucking close. And please guys, don’t be fooled – “The Social Network” is nowhere near as good as this film or “The Black Swan”. This is one of the most inspiring films that I have ever seen.

Fuck Facebook (I have one, add me).

Rating: 10/10

“TRON: Legacy” 3-D IMAX Experience – 2010. Dir. Joseph Konsinski

With Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde with Michael Sheen with Cilian Murphy and Bruce Boxleitner

Music by Daft Punk

“The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they traveled through the computer. Ships, motorcycles. With the circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day – I got in.” – Kevin Flynn

 

So you’ve probably seen all these mixed reviews of the film, you might have even read that “TRON: Legacy” made $3.5 million at its midnight premier (which is more than “Inception” made). So you also could be wondering if the fact that I (a really, really pompous film snob) went to the midnight showing, paid $16 for a 3-D IMAX ticket, and had to get up at 5:45am for work – was worth it.

Fuck yeah it was.

The plot is thin, yet I was drawn into it and really enjoyed the direction the film was taken. It starts out in 1989 with a young Kevin Flynn (an incredible reversed aged and voiced Jeff Bridges) talking to his young son Sam about TRON, about the future, about computers. It’s a nice little explanation for those who hadn’t seen the original “TRON” film.

Flynn now has his rightful place as the CEO of Encom and is building software that will be free of charge, so that anyone and everyone have access to the future. But on the night Flynn sits with his son, it’s the last night that anyone will ever see Flynn.

Flash-forward to current day, there is a meeting at Encom late at night; the board is sitting in a fancy conference table in the ultra fancy building. They are minutes away from unveiling their latest operating platform. The board is filled with a bunch of snobby elitist that would make Dick Cheney proud. This time we see an older Sam (Garret Hedlund) breaking into Encom with hopes to sabotage the announcement of the new operating platform.

The board is all ra ra with their plans to essentially rip the public off, everyone by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) is happy. He pipes up and announces his unrest with the new “vision” of Encom, and chastises the board telling them that Kevin Flynn aspired to make all this software freeware – making it available to all of the public. The Chairman of the Board essentially ignores Bradley and applauds Edward Dillinger (in a cameo by Cilian Murphy) who was the lead designer on the new software. Of course Murphy looks like a slime ball – and don’t forget (or for those of you who haven’t seen the original film) Edward is the son of Ed Dillinger the villain of the first film.

Sam successfully sabotages Encom’s unveiling and get arrested and then returns to a cozy little garage he calls home. While he cracks open a Coors Beer (drinking in a Disney movie!?) Bradley is inside of Sam’s “home”, and they go through some banter about how Bradley is Sam’s surrogate father figure – yada yada yada. Bradley tells Sam that he got a page from his father’s office, and tosses Sam the keys.

Sam goes to investigate the rundown and barren Flynn’s Arcade. He turns the power on and Journey starts to blast from a juke box. He looks around, discovers the TRON video game, and then a secret door. Needless to say, Sam accidentally stumbles into Flynn’s office, and gets laser beamed into The Grid.

This is where the movie gets kicked into high fucking gear. The Grid is unlike the old version; it’s a cold, dark and electronic virtual reality. It looks fabulous. Sam gets scooped up, and forced to play games against other programs. Instead of the Master Computer and Dillinger being the villain, its Flynn’s program he made back in 1989, Clu (which is the reversed aged and voiced Jeff Bridges). And Clu is fucking nasty.

While Sam fights his way through the games, he eventually gets challenged to a light cycle race by Clu. Clu is whooping shit, and he’s cheating (because he can), and Sam gets saved in the nick of time by Quorra (Olivia Wilde) who is the protégé to Flynn who lives in exile just outside of The Grid.

Once we see Flynn, he’s old and grey and has a beard. He wears a robe and is meditating. He’s very much Zen-like, and he uses words like “radical” and calls his son “man” – so pretty much Flynn is still very much a beatnik. Sam and Flynn devise a plan to escape to the portal that Sam entered in that will be closing soon, while trying to elude Clu, who’s master plan is to build an army and enter the portal and transcend to reality.

This film does have somewhat of a skimpy plot, but once we listen to Flynn tell us how he created The Grid, and “life began to manifest” – it becomes this mythical story, a fable and Flynn assumes the Christ-like figure of creating a world and creating life, while Clu the program that was trusted to help him – turns on him and seizes control of The Grid (a reflection of Judas).

While the screenplay may not be all that great, the special effects and the dual performance by Bridges more than makes up for it. Bridges churns out another solid performance as the prophet Flynn, while taking a step back and playing an evil computer program that isn’t a far cry from a fascist leader. There is an excellent scene prior to the climax where Clu gives a speech to a mass number of programs that are in square formations, and he boasts and yells about how they are about to cross over, they are going to take over their programs because they (the programs) are more efficient.

The highlight of the film is the beginning of the second act, where Clu challenges Sam to a light cycle game. The special effects were the best I’ve ever seen (remember or not, I never saw “Avatar” – fuck you James Cameron). The 3-D was sharp and popped from the screen, the sound, the images, the engineering of this sequence are executed flawlessly.

Another highlight is Michael Sheen in a small role of Zeus, who is an ally to Quorra, who is a homoerotic flamboyant club owner who distracts the evil programs with beautiful women and music (Daft Punk makes a cameo as the DJ’s of his club). Sheen is excellent in his small and pivotal role.

This film isn’t without its problems. Aside from the screenplay, some of the acting is a little stiff and seems forced. Garrett Hedlund who plays Sam isn’t terrible – but he’s not that great either. Let’s just say he hits a homerun compared to Hayden Christensen in the new Star Wars trilogy. Olivia Wilde is good, but she’s mainly there because she looks GREAT.

Clu has a masked henchman, and without ruining the identity, when you figure out who is behind the mask, they kind of bitch out by not using the same technology that they used on Jeff Bridges for that character. I thought that was just a poor choice.

While watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Bruce Boxleitner. I was really glad he was in the film, and I he was good in his limited role, but don’t forget that his character Alan Bradley’s program is TRON. He’s TRON! Yet it’s Bridges who gets all the glory. But after all, he is Jeff Bridges. Duhh.

Yet another reason to see the film is for Daft Punk’s amazing score. It flows and hums, it sizzles and cracks – it’s the perfect sound for this film. It’s incredibly electronic and buzzing. I’m going to buy the original score to this film, it’s that good.

The last thing I would like to say about my theater experience was that there were these beat off kids sitting behind me and my party. And every time, I mean every single fucking time Jeff Bridges (Flynn, not Clu) opened his mouth they would utter out their best Keanu Reeves’ impression “yeahhhhh Duuuuude!” Hey I think it’s cool that you guys are seeing TRON at midnight, and I think it’s cool that you guys dig “The Big Lebowski” – but listen here motherfuckers, Jeff Bridges was the Dude before the Dude. Nough said.

Rating: 9/10

 

“Black Swan” – 2010. Dir. Darren Aronofsky

With Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, with Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey.

“I was perfect…”

Coming from the pretty tame, “The Wrestler”, Darren Aronofsky is back doing what he does best; subjecting us to the dark side. His latest film stars Natalie Portman who has lead a very innocent and mundane life as a ballerina, who is in the new version of “Swan Lake” directed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) who had just fired his aging starlet Beth (Ryder) and brings in new talent Lily (Kunis). Thomas taps Nina (Portman) to play the Swan Queen, and the Black Swan. As Nina is pushed and pulled by her director Thomas and her mother Erica (Hershey) she begins to let go of her perfect innocence and discovers her dark side.

Watching Nina embrace her dark side is a beautifully painful showcase to witness. She tries to run from it, tries to make it stop, but she can’t. She’s lived the sweet and innocent life at the demand of her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey). She lives in a “princess room”, painted white and pink, and littered with teddy bears and unicorns. Her room, the bathroom – or for that matter any other room in the house (other than the tripled bolted front door) have no locks on them. When Nina needs privacy in the bathroom, she moves over the hamper that her 100lbs body can move against the door.


Her transformation starts at the pressuring and guidance of Leroy (Cassel), who demands Nina to unleash the black swan. Cassel is so good in this film, he’s a predator that lurks in the distance, and when he strikes, he strikes hard and strikes fast. He has piercing eyes, and a sharp jaw and a small mouth. When he delivers his lines of dialogue, he snips and snaps them. He is in complete control, and he knows it.

There is a scene later on in the film where Leroy has Nina over at his apartment. He tells her that they need to have a very close relationship, a very close bond – he begins asking her about her personal life and than her sex life and asks her to do homework and masturbate, to “unleash”. Leroy verbally molests her in this scene, and it’s terrifyingly erotic to witness.


Natalie Portman gives one of the finest performances that I’ve ever seen. She gives an incredibly fragile and vulnerable performance. She’s the most delicate flower that I’ve ever seen, she’s been afflicted by her mother, and she’s being controlled by her director while exploring and reluctantly embracing her dark side.

You can’t help but love Nina. Seriously, you fall in love with her; watching her sit on the subway, cautiously minding her own business as she listens to her iPod, she softly graces the earlier frames of the film with much perfection and much poise. You can’t help but ache for her, as she is subtly degraded and humiliated by Vincent Cassel (who gives a bold performance – he’s such a fine actor).


Nina is such an incredible character. She is so sweet and harmless, but as her black swan grows – you become terrified of her. I can’t even imagine the emotional toll this took on Portman. Her black swan is awakened mainly through sexuality, mainly from Cassel, but with a lot of help from Lily (Mila Kunis) who share a soon to be infamous sex scene. Yes it’s erotic, and yes – it’s creepy.

Aronofsky has made one of the finest films that I have seen in a long, long time. While this film is hard to enjoy, you can’t help but marvel over what a tour-de-force this film is. This film grabs you from the beginning, and once the credits roll and the third act is accomplished, this film will leave a scar on your soul. It was perfect…


Rating: 10/10