Black Swan

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Sep 01, 2010 10:04 am

I'm of course open to any film until I see it, but I have to admit suspicion about the fawning raves. Aronofsky, just as much as Nolan, has a fanboy base that is primed to adore anything he puts out. Most of them raved equally about The Wrestler, a movie I found egregiously overrated. I'll wait for a broader sample of reviews before I start putting this on lists.

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Postby Big Magilla » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:07 am

Per Jeffrey Wells, "Indiewire's Todd McCarthy, filing from the Venice Film Festival, isn't as blown away by Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan as Obsessed With Film's Rob Beames, who fell to his knees and had kittens." which is interesting because it means that had McCarthy not been put out ot pasture by Variety it would be his review that Variety would now be publising.

I've had the film in my predictions all along for Best Picture, Director and Actress but not Screenplay and nothing in thee reviews causes me to change that, but I'm thinking maybe the film will also yield supporting nods for Kulis and Hershey.
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

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Postby Sonic Youth » Wed Sep 01, 2010 4:47 am

Hello, and happy Fall/Winter movie-going season. Yay!

In the rush to get the review posted, it appears Variety posted the paragraphs out-of-order. Hollywood Reporter's less good review is below. And someone at Screendaily found my secret entrance to their subscriber's-only content and blocked it, so I can no longer access their reviews. Oh, well. Nice while it lasted.

Black Swan

A wicked, sexy and ultimately devastating study of a young dancer's all-consuming ambition, "Black Swan" serves as a fascinating complement to Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," trading the grungy world of a broken-down fighter for the more upscale but no less brutal sphere of professional ballet. Centerstage stands Natalie Portman, whose courageous turn lays bare the myriad insecurities genuinely dedicated performers face when testing their limits, revealing shades of the actress never before seen on film. As with "The Wrestler," Fox Searchlight faces formidable marketing challenges, likely exploiting the psychosexual thriller's racier elements to eke out a similarly modest score.

Once again, Aronofsky is drawn to the irresistible force that drives certain personality types to chase the spotlight, except in this case, the impulse doesn't seem born of some deep-seated egotism, but is simply programmed from childhood by a controlling mother (a creepy but far from one-note Barbara Hershey). Portman plays Nina, a virginal young ballerina who comes across as an incomplete soul, her single-minded interest in dance eclipsing all other aspects of her being.

In the film's staggering opening sequence (arresting enough to give skeptical male auds reason to stick around), Nina dreams of herself in "Swan Lake's" lead role, circled by dark forces. But in order to land the Swan Queen part in Lincoln Center's upcoming season of reimagined classics, Nina must also master the show's seductive Black Swan. The svengali-like figure responsible for her corruption is French ballet maestro Thomas Leroy (played with smoldering physicality by Vincent Cassel), a director already ensnared with his previous star, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder in a crucial but barely-there part).

Brief glimpses of Beth on her way out remind how quickly young replacements are cast aside in the cruel world of ballet, though Nina is no Eve Harrington. What's missing from Portman's characterization -- and the film itself -- is the pressing need to perform, the inescapable artistic contagion that powered Powell and Pressburger's "The Red Shoes" ("Black Swan" sorely lacks that film's romantic dimension as well). Instead, Portman's naive young dancer is driven by a need for perfection at all costs, a variation on the impossible obsession that destroyed the protagonist in Aronofsky's "Pi."

From the beginning, Thomas remarks on Nina's ability to nail the technical requirements of the role, while questioning whether she can loosen up enough to capture what the Black Swan demands. Ironically, the metamorphosis is well within Portman's grasp as a performer (as is the ballet, which the actress studied intensively for 10 months prior to shooting), while the effort to embody the frigid young ingenue seems to pose the greater challenge.

Aronofsky and costume designer Amy Westcott are none too subtle with the film's symbolism, dressing Nina in innocent white outfits while those around her wear darker and considerably more ominous colors. These exaggerated stylistic choices (somewhat at odds with Aronofsky's documentary-like sense of detail and Matthew Libatique's handheld shooting style) extend to the production design as well, adding yet another motif: Reflective surfaces, mostly mirrors, offer fleeting glimpses of Nina's other half.

Coupled with Clint Mansell's score, which expands upon Tchaikovsky's original "Swan Lake" compositions to suggest something considerably more macabre (further aided by proper horror-movie sound design), the result is an unsettling yet ultimately intuitive blend of classical and contempo techniques.

While Thomas tries to draw Nina out, and her suffocating stage mother attempts to freeze the growing rift in her daughter's personality, the individual who reveals Nina most is Lily (Mila Kunis), a new addition to the ballet company who serves as her dark double. Lily is spontaneous, seductive and experienced in a way Nina is not, making the latter fiercely jealous of what comes so naturally to her rival -- a problem that can only be overcome by breaking down certain boundaries between them.

Already the film has acquired a certain lesbian allure, courtesy of a trailer that somewhat unfairly teases a scandalous Portman-Kunis love scene. This footage will no doubt help to entice ballet-averse auds, though "Black Swan" is anything but a Brian De Palma-style erotic escapade (superficial echoes of "Sisters" and "Femme Fatale" notwithstanding).

Aronofsky seems to be operating more in the vein of early Roman Polanski or David Cronenberg at his most operatic. Though the director never immerses us as deeply inside Portman's head as he did Mickey Rourke's in "The Wrestler," the latter third of "Black Swan" depicts a highly subjective view of events that calls to mind the psychological disintegration of both "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby."

At first, Nina's hysteria seems innocuous enough, exaggerating minor injuries (a split toenail or irritated shoulder rash) into squirm-inducing conditions, or having her project a dark version of herself onto strangers glimpsed in the subway or on the street. But as the pressure intensifies, Nina's hallucinations begin to take over, to the extent that nearly everything can be read as manifestations of her subconscious -- the spiritual cost of trespassing beyond her comfort zone for the sake of a role.


Black Swan -- Film Review
By Kirk Honeycutt
Hollywood Reporter

First there was the Phantom of the Opera. Now, in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," you get the Terror of the Ballet. The movie combines horror-movie tropes with "The Red Shoes," "All About Eve" and every movie about show business that insists you don't have to be crazy to become a star but it doesn't hurt either. The movie is so damn out-there in every way that you can't help admiring Aronofsky for daring to be so very, very absurd.

"Swan" is an instant guilty pleasure, a gorgeously shot, visually complex film whose badness is what's so good about it. You might howl at the sheer audacity of mixing mental illness with the body-fatiguing, mind-numbing rigors of ballet, but its lurid imagery and a hellcat competition between two rival dancers is pretty irresistible. Certain to divide audiences, "Swan" won't lack for controversy, but will any of this build an audience? Don't bet against it.

"Swan" bears a resemblance to Aronofsky's most recent film, "The Wrestler." Its battered, lonely protagonist was a pro wrestler who drags his weary body into the ring night after night because that's what he is -- a wrestler. Same with Natalie Portman's Nina, a sinewy, thin slip of a ballerina whose body actually cracks loudly while getting out of bed. But she heads into the dance studio every day to pirouette on bloody toes and strain every muscle in her body. Because that's what she does.

Only Aronofsky suggests, right from an opening dream sequence, that Nina might be cracking up. He keeps the camera close to his heroine, not just so objects and people can suddenly loom next to her as in all horror flicks, but to suggest a certain amount of paranoia and claustrophobia.

Nina lives with an emotionally smothering mother, played by Barbara Hershey in as unflattering makeup, hairstyle and lighting as possible. Mom hovers obsessively over her daughter, watching everything from her diet to nervous habits, like scratching her skin until it bleeds. However, as with any of the lurid visions in this movie -- bloody nails, breaking bones, puncture wounds, nasty sutures -- you're never quite sure how real they are. They could be figments of Nina's fervid imagination.

A New York ballet company's artistic director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel, the only unambiguous character in the film), selects Nina for the double role of the White Swan and Black Swan in his provocative new take on that old war horse "Swan Lake." He knows Nina can nail the White Swan, but he's not so sure she can embody the dark side of the Swan Queen. So he imports from the West Coast another dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), whose cunning, deviousness and rampant Id make her an ideal Black Swan. Lily becomes Nina's alternate for the Swan Queen -- and her rival.

Nina got the role in the first place when Thomas cavalierly tossed aside the company's previous prima ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder). Beth slinks around the film's periphery, hissing obscenities and accusations until she winds up in a hospital after walking in front of a car. Like the mother character, Beth exists to up the ante of paranoia and tension as mental chaos relentlessly assails Nina.

Nina's drive for perfection runs roughshod over her health and friendships. Nothing else matters. Thomas eggs her on, using sexual abuse and intimidation to get her to "lose yourself" in darkness. If he only knew how truly lost Nina is in that darkness. What she really is losing is her sense of reality.

All this psycho drama builds to a fever pitch braced by the woozy lyricism of Tchaikovsky's music, sumptuous choreography by New York City Ballet star Benjamin Millepied and Matthew Libatique's darting, weaving camera. By "Swan Lake's" opening night, the film surrenders to the surreal when Nina's body grows feathers and horrific backstage mayhem vanishes on cue.

Aronofsky, working with an original script by Andres Heinz that later was rewritten by Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin, never succeeds in wedding genre elements to the world of ballet. The film takes its cues from "Swan Lake" itself as demons, doubles and death dance in Nina's head. She can only approach perfection by becoming the dual character she plays -- the innocent and the evil.

Portman, who has danced but is no ballerina, does a more than credible job in the big dance numbers and the tough rehearsals that are so essential to the film. In her acting, too, you sense she has bravely ventured out of her comfort zone to play a character slowly losing sight of herself. It's a bravura performance.

Kunis makes a perfect alternate to Portman, equally as lithe and dark but a smirk of self-assurance in place of Portman's wide-eyed fearfulness. Indeed, White Swan/Black Swan dynamics almost work, but the horror-movie nonsense drags everything down the rabbit hole of preposterousness.

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