Archive for January, 2011

Oscar Review: Black Swan

January 30, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

When I first heard of Black Swan, it wasn’t yet the critical sleeper hit of 2010. It was an Aronofsky, whose work, such as Requiem for a Dream and Pi, I respect very much. It wasn’t the sunniest direction nor was it for the widest of audiences but it was a style that set him squarely as one of the best contemporary directors working today. Then we added the double feature of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis to the mix, and who can’t win? Portman’s been in the business more than half of her life and has been a favorite of mine from films like Garden State while Kunis’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall showed that she could work outside of Topher Grace’s basement on That 70’s Show.

Black Swan is a ballerina narrative that explores the true nature of the ballet. The mainstreamed version of this ballet explores light versus dark while focusing on the light, while Aronofsky’s version examines the true nature of the doppelganger and sinisterness of the black swan. In the film, Portman’s work over several years in the company landed her as primo ballerina edging out the aging ballerina played by Winona Ryder. Kunis is the most recent addition to the company from the west coast (think contemporary, edgy, passionate west coast versus traditional, structured east coast dancer). Portman immediately finds herself jealous of Kunis and is compared to her often by Vincent Cassel, the company’s director. The relationship between these two is dichotomous in that Portman’s perspective of their relationship is fleshed out albeit the audience is never truly sure what is fantastical and what is reality as their relationship develops throughout the narrative.

The play on the dual nature of this character is demonstrated by Aronofsky through his use of dance studio ballet mirrors and Portman’s Nina who shifts between black swan and white swan through the multiplicity and separation of reflective images in those mirrors. Even in the penultimate climax scenes, mirrors are effectively used to demonstrate how this will all end. And it will all end as Nina’s battle to be both the white swan and black swan on stage will quickly permeate her life off stage, and with that Aronofsky has created a critical favorite that continues to build momentum towards Oscar greatness.

(CC) Nathaniel R

Oscars: The Kids Are All Right

January 26, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

The best picture nomination, The Kids Are All Right, fell under the radar of many, while, for me, it caught my eye because it’s a classic story of love, relationships people have, the rites of passage.

Nic & Jules are just a normal couple working and living in a relatively nondescript California hillside city with their two children. Nic is a successful doctor who met Jules when she came into the emergency room one evening. They have what seems to be a normal relationship with their children, Joni and Laser, played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson respectively. Until Joni turns 18 years old and the younger Laser begins to pester her. See, Joni and Laser were born through artificial insemination from the same sperm donor; each Nic, played by Annette Benning, and Jules, played by Julianna Moore, birthed one of the two children. Laser, who is going through the throes of male adolescence in a house full of women, seeks out something more. He think that something could be filled in the form of his sperm donor, played well by Mark Ruffalo.

The Kids Are All Right by Suzanne Tenner

Joni, who is now 18, is convince to help Laser hunt down their “father”, Paul, who runs a co-op nearby, and is portrayed as Ruffalo usually is – a fun loving, dorking yet handsomely attractive man desirable by the women who surrounds themselves with him. This should not include Jules, but the true conflict occurs when suddenly Jules hops into bed Paul’s bed. This key narrative plot is the bane of my existence, since Nic and Jules seem happy. The subtle undercurrent of wanting more ripples through both Jules, who is shadowed in her trying to start a landscape design company by her more successful doctor partner and Laser who is becoming his own man without a male role model. While this idea of infidelity bothers me in what seemed to be a relatively loving relationship, and Ruffalo’s appeal isn’t convincing, I do think this ensemble cast of these three talented actors pulls off a well-acted film.

Maybe that subtle uncertainty is what makes this film the quintessential coming of age relationship film. Benning and Moore’s relationship is more than convincing (notwithstanding their awkward proclivities) while Joni’s carefree, smoothly coming into her own is a nonissue as she prepares to break out own her own. Although the 21st century’s ideals of “marriage” and relationships in nontraditional families is played smoothly and without awkward societal reasoning, it still bothers me, a heterosexual male, that Nic so easily cheats on her wife and her family, while my lesbian friends who saw this film agree that Nic’s actions are their own hidden fears that they’re not good enough for their own partners simply because they are not male.

Ruffalo usually plays Ruffalo and this film is nothing new, albeit Benning and Moore shift convincingly into their rules; Annette Benning deserves her nomination although she is up against a world of competitive talent in the likes of Natalie Portman, in the critical favorite Black Swan and new comer Jennifer Lawrence the protagonist from Winter’s Bone. While I fear the Best Picture nod will not go to this little film, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg have a better chance of walking off with the Original Screenplay award given it’s already successes earlier in the award’s season.

Blue Valentine: A Review

January 23, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

Driving to Blue Valentine tonight I felt this anticipated nervousness. See, I was alone, going to an Art Theatre at night, and knew this would be heavy drama. I’d watched Gosling’s Half Nelson when it was garnering Oscar attention in 2006, and I knew that if this film came close to that amount of pain then I’d walk out afterward awkward and exhausted. I almost expected it, but pleasantly, that didn’t quite happen. It’s not that the film wasn’t heavy drama (because it was) nor was it overly dramatic (it sure did hit close to home as a married couple struggling to live with a young daughter, but the film was done well.

Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams

The movie chronicled the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) cutting between their initial meeting and their sadly married lives five years later. I know Gosling mostly from his art house films (others can’t divorce him from his work in The Notebook as Noah, the main love interest pining away for the girl), and he does not disappoint as Dean who begins his relationship as a high school dropout, idealistic full time blue-collared worker. In the later cuts in their relationship he’s gone from a young, handsome man with a full head of hair, good eye sight, and a quick smile for everyone to later in life when we see him as a painter, with heavy glasses and a receding hairline. The glasses work very well for his character, and he uses them to hide behind as a hurt man trying to win back the love of a woman no longer interested. His hairline leaves the audience imagining him literally pulling his hair from his head every night trying to find ways to relive that early spark that has left with his easy smile.

The film opens with him carrying the young daughter, Frankie, outside to locate their beloved family dog who Cindy finds along side the road having been hit by a car. Frankie is shipped off to Grandpa’s so mom and dad can bury the dog, and it’s evident that the death of the carefree family pet sets a tone for the film and decline of the relationship between these two trapped people. See, Cindy had potential. We see her taking care of her grandmother and trying to not jump when her father yells across the dinner table at her mother (a mother who later in the film is unexplainably absent –I assume dead).


Cindy wants to be a doctor, but before she met Dean she was in another relationship and had unprotected sex (against her better judgment and with a man she quickly ejected from her life). Dean woos her in his own quirky way with a night walk about in a nondescript town that suggested middle Pennsylvania (but was actually filmed in New York) where he plays for her the title song (which surprisingly has it’s own hype since no one in Hollywood can find its origins).

The film cuts between this new romance and the morass of late marriage; the camera uses warm, golden colors to demonstrate the heat of attraction early on while the late marriage shots have a cool, cadaverous blue tint. I was almost relieved when Frankie was ejected through the middle of the film but quickly I felt almost embarrassed as Dean attempted to solve his marital woes. See, he’s a good man. He works hard and claims that he only wants to put food on the table and hang out with his girls. What’s wrong with that? For Cindy, a lot. She’s fallen out of love with him, and Cianfrance (the director) doesn’t try to explain it away; he just lets it marinate. Dean’s not a fighter; he has a temper. He argues that he’s a good husband because he never hit(s) her (and I find it ironic that his nonaction causes her to physically hit him at the climax of this enigmatic anger) and somewhere Cindy regrets getting pregnant and not going to medical school.

Ryan Gosling

The sharp angles and close cropped shots in the film clearly demonstrate the caged, hopelessness of the marriage. Dean fights so hard for what he knows is right and, frustratingly, he only makes it that much worse. When Frankie reemerges at the conclusion of the narrative, my heart goes out to this man who is so good with her–a man who is forced to walk away towards a firework celebration exploding above the concluding camera shots; Cindy holding Frankie back near her own father’s house while Dean’s forced to walk into the distance. A question of future hopelessness or the inevitability of the dual nature of people and how the treat each other.

Update: Ok, I’ve had 18 hours to think about this film, and I’m annoyed. Dean never hits Cindy; he’s a good dad. He works hard for his family. She falls out of love. It’s heart wrenching especially given that he doesn’t seem to be blamed. He tries. He rents a room (with a gift certificate they have) at a motel where the only room left is the themed “future” room (that reminds me of the offspring of hotel room in Hotdog and all of the Star Trek movies put together. There he tries to reinvigorate their physical relationship where we see Cindy accept his advances; when he realizes that she’s given just her body, he stops. They both pass out drunk and in the early morning she is called off to work. She leaves him there, and the audience is given no explanation. He needs to find his own way home (two hours away). The theme of the hotel room, the “future”, is apropos, and there’s no way that escaped Cianfrance’s camera. I wish Dean ran back for Frankie, and I’m frustrated he didn’t. But that ending wouldn’t’ve worked. The hopelessness of love would’ve been lost in the abuse of a failed future.

Oscars: The King’s Speech

January 14, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

It’s back. Oscar Season.

Well, if you know anything about time, you know this time of the year is when I force myself to see as many Oscar worthy films as possible. I tend to review each one I see; this works better once the nominees are announced but if I wait, I’m dead. See I got a fam, too. A wife. A kid (too young to go with me!). I got myself a honey-do list, too. There’s always a few I’ve already seen pre-Christmas that I tend to not revisit here on the ole review blog (although I got a surprise from you, my dear reader, later. Can ya wait?), and there are always some I see early that don’t make the cut. Let’s hope this first one up made the cut.

King’s Speech. See, I could’ve seen like four different films today and would’ve gone with Blue Valentine (not sure if I can deal with Gosling again, but that Williams is a dream) if it were out. It’s not. So I let my friend Liza pick, and her mum’d seen The King’s Speech recently and can’t stop raving. So there I was. Sitting in a theatre with mostly people older than me, and a few idiots (who I heard after the film saying “who’s Winston Churchill?”).

My closest relationship to modern British Monarch knowledge is my cousin’s obsession with Diana and my viewing (and my review) of 2006’s The Queen with Helen Mirren. My knowledge of WWII is a bit better and I appreciate the historical implication on today’s world more than many of my friends, but beyond that I went into this film naked.

Colin Firth is like Tom Hanks for me, which means that people think he’s talented and I mostly don’t get it. As for Geoffrey Rush, I dig the man. Then there’s Helena Bonham Carter as (Queen) Elizabeth.

The film details King George VI’s ascension to the throne through Britain’s declaration of war on Hitler’s Germany. George (known to his family and friend, and throughout the film, as “Bertie”, as in Prince Albert, Duke of York) was known by his stammer, which frightened him to no end since his brother, David (Edward VIII) wasn’t necessarily the kingly type (played well by Guy Pearce).

Many speech therapists have tried to help Bertie and all’ve failed. Elizabeth (who in a very fun scene with Rush’s wife calls herself “Liz”) patiently searches for people to help her husband reach his potential. She finds Lionel Logue, a speech therapist , with his unorthodox methods (including forcing Bertie to meet in his offices and calling him Bertie in the first place).

The film itself is (even without knowledge of British history) relatively straightforward. It’s the challenge-meet the sage-fight lots with him-realize he’s right-become awesome-make wife and kids proud-save the world-and life happily that you expect. But with Rush and Firth at the helm, it works. And works well. Firth’s performance as this frustrating, stammering man who realizes the future and his own courage, would steal the scene, if he weren’t surrounded by two other of the most talented actors of his age: Rush & Carter.

Together, this trifecta makes the King’s Speech a two hour journey through a well-developed, emotional journey of a modern monarch. Throw in a subtle yet awesomely played Churchill, and Princess Margaret and (the future famous Queen) Elizabeth II playing at the ankles of the Third & Monarch of the House of Windsor, their father.

Firth’s performance is seamless. Carter’s future is that of Helen Mirren & Maggie Smith’s, while Rush continues the wonderfully eccentric performance, like his Phillip Henslowe. See this one. Bring a friend and pee first.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Firth & Carter in The King’s Speech

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