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.