Weekend Roundup: ‘Black Swan’ review

Summer is certainly a busy month and this past weekend was another one jam-packed w/ activities. Last weekend I mentioned about the Fill Their Plate Run 5K/10K, well this Saturday morning my friends and I volunteered at a meal-packing event for Kids Against Hunger, a humanitarian food-aid organization which mission is to significantly reduce the number of hungry children throughout the world. There were about 60 something people in our shift and we packed about 12,000 meals to be sent to Haiti.

We didn’t have time to make it to the cinema but managed to watch Black Swan which I put in our Netflix queue quite a while ago. But before I get to my review, I’d like to remind everyone of an upcoming blog-a-thon called Morality Bites, spearheaded by my pals Ronan of Filmplicity and Julian of DirtyWithClass blogs. It’s a blog-a-thon that ask the burning question:

Does a filmmaker have a moral responsibility?
The rules are simple: Publish a post on your blog in response to this question or simply post your response on the page wall and email us a link to your post.

Click on the graphic to go to the Facebook page for more information or sign up on the FB wall. Hope you all will participate this Wednesday.

Now, on to the review…

BLACK SWAN

Obsession is a dangerous thing… even more lethal when you are obsessed with perfection. Nina Sayers is a beautiful ballet dancer who nabs the much-coveted lead role of a new production of Swan Lake. She’s perfect as the delicate White Swan, her teacher repeatedly tells her, but struggles to pull off the darker, more provocative part of the Black Swan. The stage performance tells of a tragic story where the Black Swan seduces the White Swan’s Prince which leads to the heartbroken White Swan killing herself.

This is the role of a lifetime — and like everyone in the grueling profession, Nina’s life is completely consumed with ballet and the dream of being cast in such a prestigious production. To make matters worse, she lives with a controlling mother, Erica, who was a former ballerina herself. Nina’s practically suffocated by her mother’s constant barrage of questions and demands, but at the same time, she is all she has because Nina’s got zero social life outside of her rigorous training. The ultimate tragic figure, director Darren Aronofsky takes us on a psychological ‘thrill of terror’ ride as Nina descends into madness the more she embodies the sinister side of the Black Swan.

Nina’s life is chock-full of complicated relationships — with her mother, her instructor, her main rival Lily, and ultimately with herself. As Leroy astutely whispers to her just before she goes on stage, “The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.” Her relationship with the free-spirited Lily is particularly intriguing. Nina is jealous of Lily because she easily personifies the sensual nature of the Black Swan, whilst at the same time being fascinated as well as threaten by her.

I’ve been warned by several people that this is a movie that messes with your mind… the line is blurred between reality and dreams/nightmares, one can’t tell when the illusions ends and reality begins. It’s a fair warning as the movie is not only spooky but can be frustrating at times as we’re always guessing what’s in Nina’s head and what actually happens.

This film was nominated for a slew of awards including Best Picture Oscar. After seeing this, I do think the accolades are well deserved. I was quite astounded that the movie had a measly $13 million budget as the production quality made it look more expensive than that. Aronofsky depicts the enigmatic world of ballet with a keen eye and the whole camera movement, choreography, the music by Clint Mansell and even use of color scheme captures the eerie and spooky mood throughout.

The casting is spot on all around as well. Parisian thespian Vincent Cassel is perfectly creepy but brilliant teacher, Barbara Hershey as the control freak mother, and even Winona Ryder as the cast-aside Swan Lake star Beth is unforgettable in her small role. Props for the casting agent for finding actresses who look believable as ballerinas. Mila Kunis is spot on as the sexy Lily who’s quite the comic relief in the movie. Her role the antithesis of the high-strung Nina though I don’t know if it’s really much of a stretch for Kunis as I feel she’s played this type of roles before.

As for Portman, she impressively carries this movie as the tortured soul protagonist. The amount of physical and emotional effort she puts into the role is nothing short of astounding. Her melancholic face suits the role well, as it seems that throughout the film she’s confined into looking either nervous or frightened. But there is one scene during her stage performance where she has this sinister look on her face as she becomes ‘possessed’ by the Black Swan. I’ve never seen that side of Portman before, and that last fifteen minutes of the movie really floored me [as I was already at the edge of my seat the whole time!]

So, did I enjoy the movie? Well, now that is an another question entirely. This is one of those movies I truly appreciate and am glad I’ve seen it because it was really well-crafted. At the same time, because there are lots of scenes that are extremely uncomfortable to watch, I don’t think I want to see this again. I find the world of ballet quite fascinating – I took a couple of lessons as a wee kid [fortunately I never dreamed of becoming a ballerina!] and have enjoyed a few ballet performances in my life. Yet because of the high suspense and state of mind when watching the film, I couldn’t quite enjoy the beauty of those performances… it’s as if Nina’s persistent state of twitchy restlessness rubs off on me as I keep anticipating something bad is about to happen.

Still, I think Black Swan lives up to the hype and for that I’m giving it a high grade. It’s one of those movies that lingers long after the end credits, oh and even the end credits segment itself is beautiful and if I had seen this at the cinema, it would be worth staying around for.

4 out of 5 reels

So what did you see this weekend? I feel like I’m the last person to see this movie, so most likely you’ve seen ‘Black Swan’ already.  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Everybody’s Chattin’: Top ten reviews from other bloggers

Happy Friday, everybody! For the first year’s edition of Everybody’s Chattin’, I thought I’d do something different and list ten instead of the usual five. Inspired by Luke @ Cynicritics’ It’s the Most Wonderful Posts of the Year, and the fact that I find review writing the most challenging part of blogging, I selected 10 reviews of 2010 movies I either haven’t seen and/or haven’t yet reviewed.

Writing reviews takes a special skill and these bloggers have done a great job in presenting a critique that’s engaging, a joy to read, as well as informative without giving away spoilers. The last one is crucial as my dental hygienist just spoiled a pretty critical plot about Black Swan as she shared what she thought about the film!! 😦

Anyway, without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order:

  1. 127 Hours
    Review by Castor @ Anomalous Material
    “Should you see 127 Hours? Absolutely, it is one of the year’s best film and a triumphant affirmation of the human spirit.”
  2. Another Year
    Review by Andrew @ theFILMblog
    “A real testament to the rich and enthralling talent currently found in this particular era of British cinema. Mike Leigh: Another Year. Another Hit.”

  3. Black Swan
    Review by The ScarletSp1der
    Black Swan inventively and impressively depicts the individualized stories and struggles of the characters in a manner that is rarely seen. Aronofsky tells the tale through his film that is its own brand of movie: a unique blend of romance, music, self-discovery, suspense, and horror.”
    ..
  4. Easy A
    Review by Sam @ BananaOilMovies
    “Chalk another one up for literary staple turned teen movie. With an excellent lead, a strong supporting cast, some solid, non-dated humor, and several nods to the classics of the genre, Easy A is a worthy addition to both unconventional adaptations and to teen movies.”

  5. The Fighter
    Review by Aiden @ Cut the Crap Movie Reviews
    “It’s a poor man’s Rocky, but it does have the best ensemble cast of the year and that goes a long way.”
  6. Monsters
    Review by Richard @ Celluloid Zombie
    Monsters is the alien invasion movie with an Indie sensibility. And, like Signs, the presence of the aliens is a backdrop to a far more human story. There are moments of carnage, but these only occur whenever the military make an appearance, which begs the question of who the title of the movie really refers to.”
  7. Somewhere
    Review by Andy @ Fandango Groovers
    “One thing that can’t be faulted is the acting, Stephen Dorff perfectly captures his character and makes him totally believable, probably even more so than Bill Murray’s Bob Harris in Lost in Translation. Elle Fanning looks as accomplished as her older sister did at a similar age.”
  8. The Disappearance of Alice Creed
    Review by Marc @ Go-See-Talk
    “Leave it to the Brits to tell so much story with so little information and exposition. This is a near perfect film and one that shows you don’t have to make it overblown like Ransom to make it effective and impacting.”
  9. The Town
    Review by Luke @ Cynicritics
    “Out of its countless surprises, The Town saves the best for last, which is proving that Ben Affleck, as a director, is not even close to done baby, done.”

  10. True Grit
    Review by MadHatter @ The Dark of the Matinee
    “This movie takes those Coen-isms and dots a grim and classic tale with them. In many ways it contains touchstones of all their greatest films, while still being very faithful to the source material.”

And since we’re on the subject of critiquing movies, Fitz @ NeverMindPop Film wrote an insightful essay on a controversial film critic: Armond White or: How I Learned to Stop Caring and Ignore the Troll

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But before you click over to these wonderful posts, first tell me: what are your movie watching plans this weekend and if you happen to be a movie blogger yourself, what have been the toughest review to write in 2010?