“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

“Brothers” – 2009. Dir. Jim Sheridan

Dir. Jim Sheridan. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Mare Winningham and Sam Shepherd.

“Why couldn’t you just stay dead?!”

I have been a HUGE fan of Jim Sheridan’s works, “My Left Foot”, “In the Name of the Father”, “The Boxer”, “The Fields”, and “In America”.  I am not a fan of his 50 Cent biopic “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” and I’m still on the fence with “Brothers”.  My friend Kevin (who is just as arrogant when it comes to film as I am) gave this film a 10 – so I owed it to myself to see it.

The film centers around a small family in a Minnesota town, Tommy (Gyllenhaal) just gets released from prison and is picked up by his brother Sam (Maguire) who is about to be sent for another tour of duty in Afghanistan.  Tensions run high in the family as the patriarch Hank (played excellently by Sam Shepherd) chastises Tommy for being a failure and not a hero like his brother.

Natalie Portman portrays Sam’s wife, and really should have gotten an Oscar nomination for her performance (let’s face it, nominations and awards DO matter).  As Sam gets sent to war, his chopper goes down and is presumed dead.  The family is torn apart and Tommy picks up the slack and takes care of Sam’s family which consists of Portman and McGuire’s two daughters.  Quick note: the two child actors that play the two daughters are absolutely phenomenal!

As time progresses Portman and Gyllenhaal form a deep emotional connection – they begin to understand each other, and essentially fall in love with one another.  The relationship doesn’t get anywhere near as physical as we think, although they do kiss in one scene; it’s more of an emotional bond.  It’s more effective that they don’t share a bed together.  As it ends up, McGuire isn’t dead!  He’s held hostage by a group of bad men in turbans and is forced to do something so unthinkable and unforgiving.  He eventually comes home and oh boy does the plot thicken!

Sam is so detached from society and his family that it’s hard for him to function properly.  This is where the film snags for me.  I think Gyllenhaal, Portman and Shepherd and excellent, they are firing on all cylinders but what really drags the movie for me is McGuire is so horribly cast.  It’s hard to play a part like that, I understand – I don’t think I’d be able too.  But it’s not my profession now is it?  Maguire runs into the pitfall of overacting.  It’s a fine line – to be able to push yourself as an actor to the edge without being to over-the-top.  I mean couldn’t Colin Farrell have played Sam instead?  He’s Irish?  He would have clicked well with Sheridan!  The one thing I do give “The Hurt Locker” credit for is Jeremy Renner was a solid rock that held the film together – Maguire isn’t.

I know that Maguire was nominated for a Golden Globe, but so was Tom Cruise for “Tropic Thunder” a few years ago.  Point made.  I really wanted to like this film, I love all the people involved.  I’m just so tired of “the war at home” films.  I think it’s a subject that is to easily misguided and cliché ridden.  I was really with this film to until the final scene and the ending voiceover narration that to me seemed absurd and absolutely contrived.

I like that fact that I’m actually in the majority for thinking this is a slightly above average film.  If you’re looking for a film that deals with the horrors of war, and bringing them home with you I wouldn’t say skip this one, but I would recommend watching “Coming Home”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Jacknife” or if you’re looking for a current one “Jarhead” or “In the Valley of Elah” instead of this.  But I do think that the one sheet that I have as the picture on my post is an excellent representation of the film, and a great looking poster.

Review: 7.5/10