Grace, endurance and a tolerance for pain, these are all three aspects of a talented ballet dancer. They are also characteristic of a wrestler, so it should be no surprise that Darren Aronofsky followed up his 2008 hit The Wrestler with Black Swan. Both films focus on the sacrifice asked of these professionals: self doubt, surreal expectations, and extraordinary committment, so much so that it begins to tear them apart. So when it was announced that Natalie Portman would be taking the lead I was hesitant. She had never pulled of anything like this before.
Natalie Portman, much like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, is playing a mirror of herself. She has never really acted in any darker material previous to Swan, but that only serves to make her performance here much more impressive. It is only when Nina's mother says, "where is my sweet little girl?" and Portman snaps back, "she's gone now!" that the implications are realized, Portman is done playing the girl next door.
The horror of Black Swan is that beneath the glittering lights, the showmanship, and the elegance lies sheer brutality. One shudders to think of the toll the punishment takes on the bodies of these women. Wrestling is a violent sport, but its physicality is worn on its sleeve. Ballet is deceptive in its methods.
So when Nina (Natalie Portman) finds herself up for the role of Swan Queen in Thomas's (Vincent Cassel) new production of Swan Lake, she needs to decide if her way of life is worth being passed over again and again. Technically, she is a perfect dancer, but she is timid and lacks the passion that playing both the White and Black Swans requires.
In really straining herself for the lead, Nina finds herself pushed to the brink by her obsessive mother and newfound competitor, Lily (Mila Kunis). Perfection requires everything, Darren Aronofsky's film announces, and sometimes giving it all your all is not enough.
The problem with Black Swan is that it never really strives to scratch below the surface. It is already known that excellence comes at a high cost. The Red Shoes displayed that artistic mentality quite brilliantly. It isn't the passion that drives Nina, but her own ego.
Another source of conflict is found in Portman's performance. Nina is clearly broken at the beginning, so her arc is not as pronounced. The ramblings of a crazed ballerina are only of interest if it is the result of a transformation. She snapped long before the opening credits.
Weird is rarely used as a good quality in film criticism, but few words so completely describe Charlie Kaufman’s work as weird does. All of his films are a window into his very particular worldview, and that p.o.v. is certainly unlike anything seen in pop culture. For that reason, Anomalisa became an entry on many most anticipated lists for 2015. That Kaufman chose stop-motion to tell this story made the picture an event. So it came as a disappointment when the film was one of the year’s more mundane efforts.
Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have an energy and heart at the center that is not present here. Previous collaborators like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were able to temper the overwhelming negativity Charlie Kaufman occasionally falls prey to, but, this time, the writer doesn’t have a director to rein things in. In all of his efforts to create an experience that is both familiar and alienating, Kaufman may have accidentally created something host…
There are two movies about the Hulk and one that features the green monster as a major player. One was made in 2003 by an auteur, starring a little-known Aussie. Five years later The Incredible Hulk came out to the same tepid reaction as Ang Lee's Hulk did. This weekend, The Avengers made the Hulk as popular as he has been in a long time. So it comes down to this: Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk. Who will smash whom?
Round One: Acting Edward Norton outshines Eric Bana as the dual persona of the meek Bruce Banner and the rage-induced Hulk. Eric Bana was given little to do but run and fight and often the audience was just waiting for him to transform. With the Incredible Hulk, Norton's Banner is fully fleshed-out and we are given a reason to care about him. Being allowed to go a little dark with Banner's scenes questioning what is left of his life provided emotional resonance to the character that Hulk lacked. Yet even with the capable performance that Norton gives there was something …