Black Swan

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Postby Sonic Youth » Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:52 pm

This is the last of the ten nominated films I've seen, and by the end I found myself won over by the sheer chutzpah of the whole while disliking many of the effects utilized. Specifically, the sound design. Some filmmakers (The Coen Bros. and Jonathan Demme, for example) are brilliantly intuitive when it comes to audio effects enhancing the narrative. Aronofsky is not. Using Swan Lake and Swan Lake-like music beneath much of the film gives many of the scenes their resonance. (And let's face it, this wouldn't be half the movie it is were it not for Tchaikovsky.) But it also leads to a lot of ham-fisted effects, such as blatting horn tuttis upon the discovery of 'WHORE' written in lipstick on the mirror, an old horror-film device that's gone past the point of parody. And then there's the sound effects, such as the creepy, metallic 'swish' when someone's face emerges from the shadows, for instance. For me, it creates a disharmony with the story and visuals. Maybe this is in keeping with the film's intentional histrionics, but that doesn't mean I have to warm up to it. I can't.

I can see why the film was so popular among women. It's a veritable checklist of young femme-centric anxieties: peer competition, the tyranny of mom, the confusing rush of blossoming sexuality, self-actualization, even the allure of self-mutilation. It's all very calculated, right down to the black-white art direction and costume design, but it's done with such aplomb that towards the end I couldn't help but cast aside my misgivings and enjoy the mindfuck. The final fifteen minutes are such a batshit crazy tour-de-force, I found myself laughing with glee at Aronofsky's audacity. That said, I'm not so sure 'laughing with glee' was the effect Aronofsky had in mind when he made this movie. On the other hand, I'm not so sure it wasn't, either. Rather than be horrowed or disturbed, I came away thinking "what a hoot". For those who were shaken to their very marrow, perhaps the joke was on you?

Now, Portman... Gosh, what to say? It felt more like she was putting on a character rather than inhabiting one. The downcast eyes, the fluttery way about her all feels as calculated as the movie. I like Portman, but I think she was a little too old for the part. Now very close to pushing 30 and her adolescent features having disappeared, she's just not plausible as tremorous virgin. Some people here have said her dancing was awful. I'm no expert, but it looked fine to me. I'm sure some of it is a function of editing, but I suspect Portman does a lot more of her own dancing than any of the principal actors in "Chicago" combined. But something's missing here. Portman does very well in conveying the "White Swan", but I couldn't detect any of the passion and sensuality of the "Black Swan" that she supposedly inhabits by the end. This goes for both the dancing and Nina herself as she defiantly learns to party, do drugs and indulge in life's other fine pleasures. Instead of losing herself in a sensuous roller-coaster, she metamorphosed into a cursing ice queen. For a story about transformation, I expect a sharper contrast.

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Postby flipp525 » Fri Feb 25, 2011 4:58 pm

Damien wrote:My friend George's take on the auteur of Black Swan, which he deemed "trash, and not even good trash":

I love Black Swan, but this quote from DataLounge had me rolling:

"Black Swan is Showgirls for the new millennium. In ten years, there will be midnight showings of it hosted by drag queens in most big cities."
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Postby Big Magilla » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:23 am

dws1982 wrote:[url=null]The Guardian's Richard Williams argues[/url] that Black Swan should win the Oscar because it's as preposterous as the awards themselves.

Link doesn't work.

Here's the correct one:

The video is amusing enough, but what is the Guardian's chief sports writer doing bashing the Oscars and a movie he says they should have called Beyond the Ballet of the Bolshoi due to its similarities to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?

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Postby dws1982 » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:06 am

Richard Williams of The Guardian argues that Black Swan should win the Oscar because it's as preposterous as the awards themselves.

Link fixed.

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Postby Damien » Mon Jan 24, 2011 5:50 pm

My friend George's take on the auteur of Black Swan, which he deemed "trash, and not even good trash":

"Aronofsky has had the same problem since day one -- if you look at Pi, you see a very smart young man who feels like he has to tell you everything he knows in each shot of each film. It's the same plight as his characters usually have, a sort of cinematic Tourette's crossed with OCD. Add to that a very unhealthy masochism and you get his oeuvre. Wordsworth once said that to depict chaos an artist needs very ordered forms. Aronofsky doesn't seem to get that.

"And I'm very sorry he didn't have Harpo available for the mirror scene. Has there ever been a film that more desperately needs a few good laughs?"
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Postby Greg » Mon Jan 24, 2011 3:37 pm

While watching Black Swan I was reminded of something Lawrence Oilvier reportedly said to Dustin Hoffman during the filming of Marathon Man. Hoffman stayed up all night in order to play his character when he is sleep deprived. Olivier said, "Why don't you just try acting? It's much easier." Natalie Portman's Nina suffers for her art in the method-acting way, by transforming herself into what she is portraying; but, I kept thinking to myself during Black Swan that it simply was not worth it. While I appreciated the bravado of sight and sound that portayed the descent into terror, unfortunately, I think it is all in service of a story that simply has no good point to be told.

The gradual use of special effects to show the metamorphosis of Nina into the Black Swan was done with panache. The sound frequently gave great highlight to the dreamlike quality of the story, especially during the back-and-forth between onstage and offstage during the Swan Lake performance. Natalie Portman really let loose showing her character going in deeper and deeper. I thought Barbara Hershey gave the best performance. She constantly came across as perhaps a monster mother or, perhaps, someone just doing her best to help her daughter, always keeping you guessing which it is.

In short, to me Black Swan is a thumbs-up swanky body wrapping a thumbs-down pointless heart averaging to a thumbs-sideways movie.


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Postby Big Magilla » Thu Jan 20, 2011 3:32 pm

ITALIANO wrote:Am I the only one who never heard of Mila Kunis before Black Swan?

No (see earlier posts).

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Postby ITALIANO » Thu Jan 20, 2011 3:03 pm

Am I the only one who never heard of Mila Kunis before Black Swan? Anyway, I agree with you: she's certainly effective in this movie. As you know, I liked Portman more than you did, and I think that that undeniable "juvenile" quality you correctly mention is actually what her role here needed; but then, as you say, juvenile or not she definitely deserves to win over Bening.

As for the movie itself, I just guessed, knowing you, that it wouldn't be your cup of tea (low-key it certanly isn't). It's not Repulsion, this is true, and Polanski was, and still is, a completely different kind of director, more subtle even - still I feel that Aronofsky didn't want Black Swan to "only" work on the level of a thriller (even an auteur's thriller) - he tried to add a strong melodrama element to it; the result is an ambitious, though admittedly not always successful, mix of genres that I found very interesting.

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Postby Uri » Thu Jan 20, 2011 2:20 pm

JAPs and Ballet? I'm not sure it's a match made in heaven. Both miss Hershlag and miss Horowitz were lacking the kind of posture and aura real ballerinas project, I'm afraid. But I'll give her that – Portman was more graceful here than Barbra Streisand was in Funny Girl.

So, Marco. You weren't really wrong, per se. But, I didn't hate it, I was just overwhelmingly underwhelmed by it. I read comparisons made between BS and Polanski's films, mainly Repulsion, but while with Polanski (in Repulsion and Rosemarie's Baby and Frantic and so on), the nightmarish, hallucinational(?) nature of his films felt as it was a representation of real human despair or fear or anxiety, here it felt like a second hand representation of well studied yet still contrived images and notions. As it happened, yesterday I saw Kiarosrami's Certified Copy. And I couldn't help thinking that BS could be used in the debate made in it about the way an original piece of art is perceived vs. the way its copies are, for the lack of urgency and intensity in BS can serve as an argument in favor of dismissing the validity of replicas. But, I never was a post modernist, and I guess I never will, so what do I know.

Now – comes Oscar night, presuming it will be either Portman or Benning, I'll be definitely rooting for our Natalie, and not only for being a fellow Israeli. Unlike Ms B's shticks, at least her performance is a sincere one. But it's desperately needs a kind of style or rather a stylish pathos Portman is seemingly not up to. I was reminded of what we said here about the cast of has been child actors of Inception – like them she can not erase that imprinted perception viewers have of her as a juvenile – it serves her well in some aspects of her performance here, alas when she does need to shake it off, she comes short. Ironically, while being a fellow former baby thespian, Kunis is the only one here whose performance actually works – it offers the right amount of cheekiness and amused awareness it could actually pass for sophistication. It's not great acting, but it's quite entertaining. Which didn't surprised me, since I did like her on That '70s Show (it seems I'm the only one here who did see it, or at least admitting it). Maybe it's her European background.

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Postby Big Magilla » Mon Jan 17, 2011 11:17 pm

I liked her better than Bridges but she's not in my top five in either actress category. I actually liked Kim Darby better in the 1969 version.

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Postby danfrank » Mon Jan 17, 2011 9:27 pm

There seems to be an assumption that Hailee Steinfeld will get a nomination in one of the two acting categories, and she probably will. Am I alone in thinking she doesn't deserve a nomination at all? I thought she was generally good, did a nice job of reading those antiquated lines with words like braggadocio, and was good at conveying earnestness. She did a very good job for a kid. But that's just it, she has the limitations of a kid. Did she really turn in one of the five or ten best performances of the year? There are very few kids who I feel have been outstanding enough to be nominated for an Oscar, and she's not one of them. I thought her performance was pretty one-note. Not much nuance. I will say, though, that I thought her performance was better than the hambone performance of Jeff Bridges.

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Postby Big Magilla » Mon Jan 17, 2011 7:08 pm

Maybe that's why they delayed the news, didn't want to influence the voting. :(

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Postby OscarGuy » Mon Jan 17, 2011 6:25 pm

If it just came out today, then it won't. Nominations ballots were due this last Friday.
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Postby Big Magilla » Mon Jan 17, 2011 5:50 pm

The aw shucks news today that Kidman and her husband, Keith Urban, had a baby born December 28th to a surrogate mother boosts her visibility and perhaps by extension, the film's, at least to the point where those who haven't yet submitted their ballots will take a look.

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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Jan 17, 2011 3:45 pm

Wendy & Lucy was also a movie virtually no one saw in a year where there were already two higher-profile best actress candidates -- Sally Hawkins and Kristin Scott Thomas -- who didn't make the final cut. So, I wouldn't draw lasting conclusions from that omission.

I see things much the way Magilla does. Bening and Portman are clearly in. Lawrence has miraculously (though deservedly) become close to a lock despite being unknown and never winning a major critics' prize. After that, it's still open. Kidman has got all the proper prelims, but her film's shocking financial failure could cause her, not Williams, to be the one left off. (Blue Valentine, barely released, has already made 2-3 times as much -- plus the film also has Gosling's potential nod to goose its hopes, while Kidman is running solo) And I, too, think there's a solid chance the voters who bumped Winslet/Reader lead will do the same for Steinfeld, despite the attempted fraud.

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