Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Rated: R

Stars: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassell, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Psychological drama

A promising young ballerina on an irrational quest for perfection inexorably descends into fantasy and madness in Black Swan. And who or what is responsible for Nina's (Natalie Portman) tenuous hold on reality? Is it her manipulative, controlling mother(Barbara Hershey) ; the demands of a highly competitive (and cutthroat) profession that eats 'em up and spits 'em out with no remorse; or could it just be the silliness of dancing in that punishing and unnatural way that drives young women crazy?

We see every shift on Ms. Portman's emotionally expressive face--and that's because the camera is IN her face for most of the dancing shots, so as not to show the footwork of an actress who obviously is not a professional ballerina, though she did have some extensive training in preparation for the role. It always irks me a bit when you see the star in the close ups and then the stand in doing the more complicated moves when the camera pulls back, and it's really transparent that this is what is occurring.

But other than the aforementioned little bugaboo, Black Swan--billed as a "psycho-sexual thriller"-- is one that will keep you on your toes throughout. Is it a psychological drama? Horror flick? Erotic thriller? Hallucinatory fantasy? It's all that and a bag of chips, and a near masterpiece to boot.

Portman gives a heady performance as the driven, tightly wound Nina. Other notable renderings come from: Mila Kunis, as Nina's sexually provocative rival and nemesis. Vincent Cassell--the smoldering, unorthodox ballet director (he uses sexual harassment to motivate his dancers to "loosen up"). Barbara Hershey as Nina's creepy, controlling stage mother. And Winona Ryder as an aging star who is involuntarily being put out to pasture.

Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) knows how to ratchet up the intensity increment by increment, leading to a fervent climax the likes of which you normally aren't going to experience in a movie theatre (unless you're Pee Wee Herman, of course!) A film that gives new meaning to the phrase: DAMN...MY FEET ARE KILLING ME!

Grade: A-

Monday, December 27, 2010


Rated: R

Stars: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Genre: Drama

Rife with poignant moments and superb performances, Mother and Child follows the interconnected lives of three women: The middle-aged Karen, (Annette Bening) who bore a child at the age of 14 and gave it up for adoption; Her child as an adult, Elizabeth, (Naomi Watts); and Lucy, (Kerry Washington) a young woman anxious to adopt a child.

Annette Bening--who remains one of our most talented actresses--shines as a moody, difficult woman, haunted by her decision lo these many years. Naomi Watts has always been an "anything goes" film presence, (see Mullholland Drive) and she's still willing to bare a lot more than her soul. Her portrayal of a promiscuous, emotionally numb young woman is spot on.

What can sometimes be the emotionally devastating effects of the adoption game may be a bit overplayed here, but Mother and Child is a film with its heart in the right place.

Grade: B +


Stars: Cameron Diaz, Ewan McGregor, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo
Director: Danny Boyle
Genre: Dark Comedy

Holly Hunter steals the show as a gun-toting, tobacco juice spitting emissary from heaven who, along with her sidekick, (Delroy Lindo) is on a mission to unite two unlikely bedfellows (Cameron Diaz and Ewan McGregor) in true romance.

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) demonstrated his directorial prowess early on in this quirky, high energy romp that seeks to answer the question: IS LOVE MERELY AN EMOTIONAL ADAPTATION TO A PHYSICAL NECESSITY?

Retro Grade: B