Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ten Quick Thoughts on...Black Swan

1) Like most people, I have never really been a fan of Natalie Portman's acting. She tends to end up being either annoyingly cutesy or distractingly wooden in just about everything she's been in. Even something like Garden State, where her performance was somewhat memorable seems to suffer in hindsight (to be honest, I thought both she and the movie were kind of overrated at the time that I first saw it). I would say the only performance of hers that I have enjoyed thus far in her career was the stripper she played in Mike Nichols' Closer. That is, until I saw this movie. Portman is actually a revelation in Black Swan. I bought every paranoid, high-strung moment that her character, fragile ballerina Nina Sayers, spent on the screen (and no I don't care how much of her dancing she did). She totally deserved the Oscar she received for the role. Her incredible performance in fact was enough to forgive her for co-starring in an Ashton Kutcher film as her follow-up. Come to think of it, that Your Highness slop she just put out didn't look like such great shakes either. But look, man, she could use a break after that heavy lifting! Let's just hope she doesn't pull a Nicolas Cage after Leaving Las Vegas and never make another decent film.

2) Speaking of Aronofsky, this is certainly a return to form for him in terms of weirdness. The Wrestler was actually a very good film (carried as it was by a terrific performance by Mickey Rourke), but it seemed like a bit of a cooling-off period for Aronofsky, who had taken celluloid madness to pretty extreme lengths in films like Pi, The Fountain, and especially Requiem for a Dream. Well, consider his normal period short-lived. This flick is one of the more extreme mind-f*cks to be released in recent memory.

3) By the way, exactly how many times do we think Aronofsky watched Rosemary's Baby before beginning to shoot Black Swan? Ten? Twenty? Don't get me wrong, it was by no stretch of the imagination a rip-off. But the tight close-ups from behind? The general claustrophobic feel of the cinematography? The incredibly weird sound effects throughout Clint Mansell's eerie score? It is obvious that the guy is a member of the Roman Polanski fan club. Then again, who isn't? Um, I meant of his films, not his taste in women.

4) A lot of props go out to the actors in this film. Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey are spectacular as Lily, a mysterious dancer in the troupe, and Nina Sayers' mother, respectively. Meanwhile, Vincent Cassel is also suitably slimy as the manipulative director of the ballet. However, the person who made the second-best impression in the film (after Portman, of course) was Winona Ryder, who has probably never been allowed to be as unhinged as she is here as the former lead ballerina who Portman's Sayers usurps. She might be in the film for five minutes, but every scene she has is infused with tension and danger. It might be time for someone to write this former teen heartthrob a meatier role.

5) So what happened with Ryder's character anyway? Did she actually stab herself like crazy with Sayers' nail file? Or did Sayers do the stabbing? Come to think of it, the whole deal with Ryder ending up in the hospital was kind of crazy. Did Sayers push her into the middle of the street somehow to get hit by a bus?

6) I should say: This image, featured several times in the film, still kind of scares the sh!t out of me.

7) Great scene: The one where Portman's character wakes up in the morning and decides to take her director's advice, and have a, alone time. So she is going to work and then she flips over and sees Mom sleeping on a chair on the other side of the room. In a film full of nightmare visions, that had to be the scariest. No one wants to be caught in that position!

8) Since a big deal was made in the media, I suppose it should be addressed: the lesbian scene. I mean, it was cool. Aronofsky shot it from Sayers' perspective showing Kunis's Lily going downtown on her fellow ballerina. But really, sometimes it is amazing to think how prude much of America still is. In the ramp-up to this flick's release, a lot of people made it seem like it was some sort of major sexfest, and really there might be one or two scenes depicting sexual acts. Much ado about nothing really.

9) A co-worker of mine recently called some good bullsh!t on the final scene. I mean, the whole climax of her performance as the Black Swan was masterfully done. Portman was exhilirating. The way the dance was filmed was provocative. It was great. But really, how is she going to go through a whole dance with a large shard of glass in her stomach and not even notice? I know. She is so enveloped in her own performance - almost possessed really - that she would notice much of anything. She even sprouted feathers! Still, I'm just saying. It's a little bit ridiculous.

10) I think I would give this film an A-. I don't have any serious complaints. The performances were splendid. The pacing was tremendous and the tension never stopped building. There was a seemingly endless amount of scares and just flat-out freaky moments. Still, I was surprised at how easily the film slipped from my consciousness. I thought this thing would stick with me for a while. Like, I would be thinking about it the next day and I would want to talk to people about it. And I did. But it just wasn't as indelible and haunting as I thought it was going to be. Might have been the slight hint of camp and overdramatization. This being said, this is a must-see for any serious cinephile. And if you do see it, maybe you can let me know if that Lily ever really existed or what. I mean, I know that was imaginary cunnilingus. But was ANY OF IT real?

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