Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Swan

Year: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

It's finally here!

After being disappointed with the absence of The Town, I had my doubts that Black Swan would make it here. Thankfully my prayers were answered, and I was truly delighted to see this film which is regarded highly among critics and is a frontrunner for Oscar night.

Black Swan centres around Nina (Natalie Portman), a young ballerina who puts in a lot of effort in perfecting her craft and is regarded as one of her company's best dancers. For her company's next production of Swan Lake, their artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) plans on presenting something different, and for that he requires a ballerina who can play both the pure and innocent White Swan and her evil and wild twin, the Black Swan.

Nina's excellent ballet skills makes her a shoo in for the White Swan, but Thomas isn't convinced that she can play the Black Swan, complaining that she's too rigid, but eventually gives her the role. At Thomas' brutal and sometimes sexually invasive direction, Nina pushes herself day after day to embrace both roles to perfection. However, it soon begins to affect her mind and body as she starts to experience hallucinations and self-inflicted injuries. Worse still, she keeps thinking that a new ballerina named Lily (Mila Kunis) is after her role, even though Lily treats her like a best friend and encourages her to live a little. To top it all off, Nina's mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) constantly worries about her well-being, which puts even more pressure on the poor girl.

Let me get this out of the way first. I know very little about Darren Aronofsky, other than word of mouth that he is one of the best directors working today. Films like Requiem For A Dream and The Wrestler made him famous. But this reviewer caught only one of his films, which is The Fountain. I found it too taxing and difficult to enjoy, even when Hugh Jackman, one of my favourite actors is in the lead.

But I knew I had to see this, not just because of Natalie Portman, but because it had great reviews all over. And I'm glad I did. If I wasn't convinced Aronofsky was a genius then, I am now. I mean, you'd think that ballet isn't something you can make a movie out of and make it fascinating, but damn, Aronofsky pulled it off perfectly. Black Swan presents the world of ballet from the eyes of its dancers, showing the brutal and punishing methods they use to perform so well on stage. But more than that, the film is a psychological thriller that takes you through the eventual breakdown of a perfectionist, trying so hard to rise beyond her limits but succumbs to her darker side.

What can I say about Portman? This is HER moment. I always thought she never found the right role that suited her talent. Prior to this, I thought her best role was a small supporting character opposite Jude Law in Cold Mountain, because she seemed so believable in it. Now I believe she has finally found her defining role here. Portman is a tour de force as Nina, who from the beginning is viewed as a girl who has literally built her world around ballet, so much that she has never quite grown up and enjoyed life like other people. Her obsession in making her performance flawless drives her over the edge, and the entire process Portman puts us through is so intoxicating.

Vincent Cassel plays his familiar asshole character here, but it's quite fitting actually. Mila Kunis provides good support as Lily, who might seem like Nina's evil twin while Barbara Hershey has some good chemistry with Portman as Nina's overbearing mother. Even Winona Ryder does well as Beth, the spiteful retiring dancer, despite not getting much screentime.

The cast performances aren't the only good thing about Black Swan. Kudos must be given to production design and set design for presenting the world of ballet in the film in mostly black and white colours, with mirrors everywhere you turn, creating a somewhat claustrophobic and creepy feel. Cameraman Matthew Libatique also deserves credit for his near perfect camerawork. Last but not least, Clint Mansell is awesome in composing a haunting score for the film. Even if you're not a classical music fan, you'll love it.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Swan. Yes, it's tragic, sometimes horrific and uncomfortable to watch in certain parts. But Aronofsky has done the impossible: he has taken a story about ballet and turned it into a masterpiece. Recommended. (4/5)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Green Hornet

Year: 2011
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos

The 1960s TV series The Green Hornet is known to be the show that launched Bruce Lee's Hollywood career. Like most TV shows these days, it gets made into a film, and here it is.

Seth Rogen plays Britt Reid, son of newspaper owner James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). Britt is a playboy who enjoys partying and isn't like his dad at all. Then one day, his dad dies and Britt inherits the paper.

At first, Britt doesn't quite know what to do, that is until he meets Kato (Jay Chou), a mechanic that works for his father. Together they discover that they both dislike his old man for the same reasons and decide to do something about it. In the process of doing so, Britt learns that Kato is an expert in martial arts, and with his help, they successfully rescue a couple from being mugged.

Britt then comes up with an idea: he and Kato will put on costumes and pretend to be bad guys as they fight crime and run from the cops at the same time. Using the newspaper to spread the word on their activities, Britt dubs himself The Green Hornet and takes Kato all over town causing havoc amongst the gangs. This attracts the attention of Chudnovsky (Christoph Waltz), the Russian crime lord who is determined to take control of the city's crime empire.

The first thing you'll notice about this film is director Michel Gondry's visual style. He loves retro and it shows here. The closing credits is an homage to retroness and the old TV show. It's a refreshing change from people who have come to expect superheroes in tights. In The Green Hornet, our heroes wear suits and hats even if this isn't 1960. Gondry as well as producers Rogen and Evan Goldberg also chose to make this an action comedy instead of an all out serious superhero flick, which sort of works, but since it's Seth Rogen we're talking about, it's only fitting.

Rogen plays to his strengths here as a comedian, utilising his comic timing to good effect. However it's Jay Chou that steals the show as Kato. His English isn't all that good, but he manages to bring a certain charisma to the role. He also excels in the fight scenes, though I wished Gondry didn't use CGI to either speed up or slow down his moves as it became a tad cartoonish after a while.

Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds fame hams it up as the villain, and he's even more ridiculous than Col Hans Landa. But he is funny here, I'll give him that. I did not like Cameron Diaz being cast as Britt's assistant Lenore Case though. Diaz is just playing her usual self here. Someone with a little less popularity than her would have been more suitable.

Overall the plot isn't great and some parts lack continuity. However Gondry almost makes up for it by staging an absolutely insane action sequence in the last 15 minutes of the film. I didn't expect that from Gondry, which is nice.

To sum it up, The Green Hornet is like popcorn. It's fun to digest, but you won't remember it later. (3.5/5)


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