Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Black Swan

I have been waiting for Black Swan ever since I saw the previews, probably months ago, and it was EVERYTHING I imagined it would be!  I am a total Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman fan and they were definitely a perfect tag team.  If you haven't seen Requiem for a Dream, another mind-blowing, drug-induced movie made by Aronofsky, then make it the next on your list.  Even though he doesn't use the intense and unique editing techniques from Dream to enhance Swan's experience, he definitely succeeds by using other similar techniques and concepts including drugs, hallucinations and psychological transformation.  The entire movie is intense and literally kept me on the edge of my seat with my hands wanting to cover my eyes yet I couldn't look away.  From the clubbing scene which made me want to get up and dance along with the actors in the strobe lit theatre; to Act II, the Portman's jaw-dropping performance as the Black Swan; to the final scene where the perfect ending is played out, there is never a dull moment captured.

Swan Lake may have been around for almost 150 years, but there has never been anything like this before.  Swan follows a ballet dancer's dream to become the main performer in a dance company and take on Swan Lake as the Swan Queen.  Her life has been consumed by dancing, and when her ankle makes the first crack early on, I cringe along with her fragile body while her future flashes before her eyes.  She has learned to push through any hardship of the art and business of dancing.  The movie captures her personal, physical, emotional, and mental struggle to maintain consciousness in a world of imagination.  The movie also does a great job on telling the story of Swan Lake.  I didn't know it beforehand so I'm happy they explained the plot throughout because it definitely accentuated the movie's plot, too.

One of the themes of this movie is: Nobody is perfect, and perfection should not be a realistic expectation for anybody.  The reality of this film is what pushes it over the edge--in a good way!  We all know the dedication that every dancer or artist needs in order to succeed, and by stressing this point, Aronofsky creates a gritty reality.  The gruesome effects that stretch Portman's imagination into reality makes the film so hard to watch at times.  When she picks at her nail and ends up tearing a length of skin off, it's unbearable to watch without screaming with pain inside.  However, this is only realized in Portman's imagination and leads the audience to see into her stressed and over-worked mind.

Hands down, Natalie Portman is the star of this movie.  Her steady and inspiring transformation into the true Swan Queen is outstanding and is definitely Oscar-worthy! (Yes, you heard it here first folks.)  The film can be split in half according to her performance: the first half as Portman being the White Swan and in the second half her inner Black Swan takes over.  The director's subtle techniques and choices of shot angle and depth further this point.  One of my personal favorites is when she is putting on lipstick on the train, but the shot captures her dark reflection in the glass instead of a close up shot (a reflection of the dark image which moves her forward in becoming the Black Swan).

I'm not saying the other actors aren't worthy though.  Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey lead a terrific Supporting Cast.  If this movie is any indication on Kunis's transformation as an actress, she has definitely shed her image as simply being Kelso's girlfriend on That 70's Show.  She was perfectly cast as the dark and seductive backup Snow Queen.  It's hard not to say too much about her role, so it's best just to find out first hand.  Saying lesbian sex scene sounds controversial, inappropriate and unnecesarry, but it actually turns out being an important and believable scene.  Portman and Kunis are both believable in their performances in this scene; this is a totally necessary facet so that it is seen as a necessary action to further the plot.

Ballet was the perfect way to interpret Aronofsky's vision of every person's inner struggle between good and evil, their white and black swans.  Such a majestic and interpretive art form can suggest so many different actions and meanings to an audience.  By now, you understand that this movie is quite interpretive and detail-oriented.  The few and necessary effects used enhance the experience by showcasing Portman's psychological transformation from a White Swan into a Black Swan.

I would love to have the chance to work with, or alongside Darren Aronofsky, the genius behind this feature.  If I ever become a filmmaker one day, he is definitely who I inspire to be.  Gritty, real, dramatic, suspenseful, interpretive and intense all describe him.  So anyone working with him/in Hollywood, please let him know! :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010



Joon-ho Bong

I don't know what it is about foreign films, especially asian ones, but they NEVER disappoint!  The film's message focuses on how far a mother would go to protect her son and prove his innocence.  If there are any moms out there, how far would you go?  If any of you would go as far, or even farther, than this mother, then you should definitely be applauded for your devotion.  This mother stops at nothing, hence the tagline for the film, and even when she thinks she has solved the case- she discovers even more.

Hye-ja Kim impresses with her motherly role to Do-joon, who is framed for killing Moon Ah-jung.  With him in jail, she sets out on a quest to find the true killer and to expose the police in their lack of investigation skills.  I can't say too much more or else I will ruin the story, but I love how the movie stays suspenseful while hinting at humor along the way.  The opening scene is somewhat confusing; it opens on the mother while she stands in a field of grain but then begins to dance.  I asked myself, isn't this movie supposed to be about a murder?  But, it is amusing to see Hye-ja Kim break it down a little.

There were two pivotal scenes toward the end of the movie that furthered both the plot and the mother's character arch.  My mouth literally dropped because I couldn't believe what I had just seen!

The very final scene is quite comical as you are thrown onto a bus with a bunch of Korean ladies dancing down the aisle.  As the camera slowly zooms in on the mother, sitting alone while the others party it up, we see the worry in her eyes both for her son and herself.  We learn that with her last effort to make things right, sometimes things should be left alone just as they are.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Love Actually

Love Actually is one of those holiday movies that bring back the Christmas cheer year after year after year.

One of the messages of the movie is that love and relationships is defined by what people want, not what people need.  People need food, shelter, water, clothes, etc... But do we need jewelry and other superfluous things? Of course not, but we love getting them!  The split between Karen (Emma Thompson) and Harry (Alan "Professor Snape" Rickman) is driven by the necessity to give more than what is needed.  Harry's dying love for Karen has been defined by dull scarves, yet she still loves him dearly.  Her courage and selflessness keeps her strong until the very end, when she breaks like a true human should.  She could no better personify the ideal mother, wife and friend.

Love Actually shows love in its infinite forms and as you can see by the web of relationships, it definitely brings a lot of people together! Across languages, nations, ethnicities, and social classes, love will surpass any bound if it is meant to be. Christmas is one of those times when love is always in the air, so why not put your heart out there. Dance with the guy or girl at the office who you've kept an eye on for the past "2 years, 7 months, 3 days, and I suppose what, 2 hours?" Learn a musical instrument and serenade your love- even if you are 11 years old. Being cliché just might find you happiness.

Enjoy the time while you can- the christmas trees, the snow, the gifts, the Nativity Scene, and the carols. Before you know it, Christmas will soon be over and Love Actually will be right back in the DVD collection, waiting to be brought out next December.

Happy Holidays everyone!  Christmas is All Around! :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Enter The Void

So it's definitely been awhile since I've posted a review, but I feel like I've chosen a great film to return with!  It's called 'Enter the Void' and it was actually released at the 2009 Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals.  Just to start things off, this movie is NOT for the faint of heart or those easily startled or offended by: (loads of) SEX and nudity, strobe lights, loud noise/music, heavy drugs, and pervasive language.

It's pretty easy to sum up Etv in one word: trippy. Not only because the main character, Oscar, is on drugs most of the time, but also for the way Noe uses dolly zoom, sways the camera disorientingly for minutes on end and shows the brain's creative power and psychedelic vision during drug use.  The ever present neon lights also add to the crazy nature of every shot.

The opening credits were so shocking and unique that I knew Gaspar Noe really had something up his sleeve.  And let me say, he definitely delivered!  He contributed so many new and useful cinematic techniques that melded perfectly with the movie's tone.  Firstly, the camera is mainly from Oscar's POV- the audience literally feels . Whenever the perspective becomes omniscient, the camera 'dollies out' of his head, then pops back in when we need his view.  Secondly, the entire movie has the appearance of being one shot.  I tried quite a few times to find a break but my attempts were to no avail.  Instead of cutting between locations, the camera gives a continuous aerial (straight-down) view of city streets and the insides of buildings passed through.  This extreme continuity is juxtaposed with discontinuous editing of flashbacks to disorient the viewer furthermore.

"The Void" is the name of the bar where (spoiler!) Oscar is shot and killed but it also represents the emptiness and meaninglessness of life.  Noe uses "The Tibetian Book of the Dead" to define his views of what life represents and the possibility of life after death.

In short, "Enter the Void" is a true work of art.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Movie Madness Weekend

This past weekend was filled with movies and television-- I was most certainly in heaven!  And I really think I set a new record for myself: 4 movies in 3 days and also countless episodes of 5 TV shows I had to catch up on. Lets start with the movies:

Thursday Night:
1. Date Night.  I have been keeping up with all the hype these past few months by watching Youtube videos of filming in Times Square (so exciting! It would be a miracle dream to work on a movie set) and all the trailers, cutting out articles and pictures from magazines and posting them on my wall (this is scary when I hear wall I think Facebook, but I literally mean my bedroom wall), and other spots and interviews.  And I cannot forget Tina Fey's hosting appearance on last weekend's SNL with Justin Bieber. After all of this prep work, I was definitely not disappointed after the movie.  I almost cried laughing at parts; Steve Carell and Tina Fey are one of the best comedy couples ever made.  Their humor feeds off of each other and only gets better as the movie progresses.  Like any good comedy the plot droops at parts, but "Date Night" definitely coasts over these moments with more humor.  I don't want to ruin any of the surprises, but I will say that the strip club scene is very impressive.  As a team they work that pole like no one has seen before. Lastly, the bloopers round out the movie with a few last laughs. 
This film definitely is a must-see for an easy and laughable night at the movies! 

Friday Night:
2. Greenberg.  I was not too thrilled by spending the first half of my Friday night at this movie.  The trailer did not overly impress me, even though a few of its jokes did bring a few chuckles.  If you haven't yet heard of "Greenberg", Noah Baumbach's ("The Squid and the Whale") latest release, I am sure in time you will hear about Ben Stiller's highlight performance.  Ben Stiller being cast as Roger Greenberg was the perfect move because he really fits the middle age part. Playing a character that turns 41, Stiller begins to sprout a few grey hairs himself (where has time gone "Mystery Men" and "Happy Gilmore"?).
Greenberg finds himself in a tight spot as he house sits for his brother for a couple weeks, but wants to start a relationship with Florence, played by Greta Gerwig.  Constant bickering and sexual relations continue intermittently; I was not expecting to watch some third and 'fourth' base action.  
"Greenberg" is not for the action-packed moviegoer, as this has a deeper meaning than the next entry.  I found   "The Squid and the Whale" more impressive, but "Greenberg" may be for an older audience that can relate.

3. Kick-Ass.  Kick-Ass was so kick ass!  From the personal intro with Aaron Johnson narrating, I knew this was a film I would find worthwhile.  Twenty years ago this movie would not have been accepted by any critic, and possibly could not even be created with such a technological dependence (Youtube, live video feeds).  However, this film could not be more now.  The obvious connection is to relate with the nerdy and unattractive high schooler (later to be a turned-straight-lover who "fucks his brains out").  But with his incessant pleading to help rid the world of violence and change his own life, he quickly becomes Kick-Ass, the "green condom."  A not entirely happy story makes "Kick-Ass" more likable and realistic because you sympathize for Dave Lizewski the first time he tries to bring down two muggers, but fails.
The performances were very strong, from Nicholas Cage's crazy Big Daddy Batman, Chloe Moretz's gruesome Hit Girl and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's weak Red Mist.  Only Cage could comically pull off shooting his own daughter, three times over.  
Controversy obviously engulfed this film opening night, dissing the vulgar content and the cliche storyline.  Roger Ebert called the film "morally reprehensible", and his opinion is respectfully his own.  As seen strictly as a satirical vision of adolescence and violence today I believe that opinion goes a little over the top.  This movie is rated-R for a reason, so as long as you keep your 10 year olds away, they will not be influenced.  The movie does go too far when they represent Moretz as a very young teen, 13 in reality, who kills with no moral guidance.  This is very unlikely but I find it as part of the humor-- not many kids can fire rounds, jump like Jackie Chan combined with "The Matrix", and still have the energy to cuss someone out (I won't ruin the classic quotes).  But then again, childhood is changing rapidly and 13-14 year olds of today are attracted to way worse than I was only a mere 5 years ago.
Part of this film is true to life- the dialogue, for one- and I think it is defintely a film for any typical crazed teen or adult in for a wild ride! Highly recommended

Saturday Night:
4. Man on Fire.  I have seen this before and it was already on my top 10 or 20 movie list.  I am surprised how much I forgot, but that made it so much more exciting to experience the movie like my first time.  Denzel Washington gives an outstanding performance as Pita's (Dakota Fanning) bodyguard and reminds me of all his films that never let down. "The gunshot holds no fear!"  This is a quote from Pita as she works with Creasy (Washington) to improve her swimming time. 
Raw terror envelops the audience for the entire film, focusing on the hardship of losing a child and bringing yourself from a life-long addiction.  As the movie progresses, the impeccable score leads the audience on a journey definitely worth taking.  And despite the 2.5 hour length, the movie could have lasted another hour and I still would have been on the edge of my seat. 

United States of Tara  (Toni Collette at her finest)
Flash Forward   (the new Lost; but Lost can never be replaced)
The New Adventures of Old Christine    (Julia Louis-Dreyfus is still funny after all these years)
Modern Family   (the best new comedy on TV)
The Office   (classic)

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For me, it's the best time of the year. Yes, I know this is WAY overdue, but I still couldn't get enough of this years Oscars.  They were the most viewed ceremony in the last 5 years and the movies have definitely set a completely new set of standards. I thought last year's movies were more impressive all around, but I cannot forget the remarkable performances and incredible cinematographic visions of 2009.
Last year was the first year I really became infatuated with the Oscars ceremony, the hype, the movies, the performances, and the criticism. I hung onto the nominated films like my life depended on it, and i was determined to watch all of them prior to the ceremony. On the morning of February 2, 2010, I sprang from my bed and rushed to my laptop, hurriedly misspelled my password a few times, then finally reached the Oscars nomination page. I printed my ballot and stared in awe for a few seconds before picking each category apart. "OK! YES! Hmm... Interesting. BOO! YAY!"  As you can see I do NOT waste any of the ballot- I highlight, I tally, and I mark the winners with a red dot. (The orange highlight is for categories I have secured my vote and yellow is for the movies I have seen- all the way through.) I have a few corrections because I watched some after the ceremony (The Secret of Kells) and I've only seen part of Crazy Heart and Invictus.
My favorite categories this year were the Short Films. I spent one of my Friday nights at the movie theatre (5:30-9:00) watching the Live-Action and Animated Shorts. Yes! A local theatre- the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH- shows an array of movies and this is what I love about it. For $10 I saw all 10 short films (and I was the youngest member in the audience).  The night flew by, and I had left the theatre extremely satisfied with this year's entries. One short from each category stuck out in my mind: The New Tenants and Logorama. The New Tenants should be in a class of its own. It involved a large amount of gore, humor, irony, romance, language, and notable actors.  During the credits when they rolled the recipe instructions, I knew this was a winner. And how do I even begin describing Logorama. If you can name a label not mentioned in this film, you should win a prize because every movie, TV, video game, and business logo is featured in some shape or form. The Michelin men are the police, Ronald McDonald is a convict, the Xbox symbol begins destruction of the world, and Mr. Peanut looses his peanuts. If only the setting were 2012, this short would be perfect. There also is a large amount of strong language which seemed unnecessary and initially lost my vote. And let it be known, even though I have Wallace and Gromit winning, you can see a fainty erased X beside Logorama. Now I know never to listen to 'Critic's Pick' for Short Film because they got them both wrong and I trumped both! I could never be more proud.
The ceremony was note-worthy as well. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were amusing and playful in their humor. Yes Alec Baldwin, you pass this time around but I've got my eye on you. The frequent punches at George Clooney were one of the best, with Ben Stiller making quite a special appearance. He should be a Navi with his impeccable fluency of the language.
Regrets: I would have liked to have seen Inglorious Basterds take home at least one more award in the cinematic sense. Don't get me wrong- Christoph Waltz had every right to win his award, and the opening scene with him pointing his gun at Shoshana will forever be imprinted in my filmmemory.
Relief: The Cove winning Best Documentary. I saw this movie and immediately began supporting their cause.  It is such a captivating story heightened by Richard O'Barry's grief and the sickening Red Cove.  This film deserves the attention it has been getting; O'Barry and his team will not stop until these criminals see what they are doing to the world. I can't wait to see the worldly criticism when the film is released in Japan this summer.
Well Oscar season has come and gone, sadly, but next season is not too far away. My Grand Proposition: Create an ongoing Oscar ballot of nominees as you see deserving films in 2010. Then, come January or February of next year, we can all join the Academy as we pull out our pre-made and finalized ballots.
Let the countdown begin!