Black Swan (2010) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Jia Wei of Film & Nuance. Thanks for the review, Jia Wei! 🙂 Now let’s hear his thoughts on Black Swan, IMDB rank 177 out of 250 on 01/01/13…

There are another 15 movies available if anyone wants to do a guest review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos at the top of any of these guest reviews.

Black Swan: Reveries and desires

Ask me to name a list of movies that have profoundly disturbed me for the longest time and you will find Black Swan gracing the very top; Oh you know because swans are graceful and all. Did you find that funny? Because that’s the only funny thing you’ll see from this review and from the movie. Darren Aronofsky’s dark reverie of a film proliferates ideas of duality, the yin-yang of human nature and it’s inherent dichotomies between good and evil. An opening shot of Black Swan is a memorable dance sequence involving Natalie Portman’ as she performs the Swan Lake where the princess Odette is cursed and transfigured into a swan by the devilish Rothbart. It is hauntingly choreographed by Aronofsky whose brilliance we see throughout the film. What’s particularly symbolic here is how the ‘swan’ persona, which becomes the crucial metaphor throughout the film, is at once both graceful and cursed; A little something to note when interpreting the film. Black Swan is like art that slowly unwraps itself with every deliberate attempt to shock and traumatize, revealing the tragic poise it so gracefully holds.

Aronofsky is definitely the artist who isn’t afraid to show. In fact, his philosophy here is that if he could expose everything, he would. Psychological elements flood the film till the point where truth and reality are bent to fit the style. Potraits would come alive (think sinister version of Harry Potter talking paintings) and mock Nina’s increasingly blurry perception. Hallucinations allow Aronofsky to feed the emotional conflict and mental delusions. Black Swan is not for the faint of heart because around every dark corner lie monsters of the mind.

Black Swan’s methods may be extremely explicit but it’s themes are cuttingly profound. Some call it a passionate melodrama which I think doesn’t do the film justice. Melodrama connotates dragging…the kind of dragging that irritates but sure perhaps it’s also artistic. I beg to differ. For as much as Black Swan has deliberated it’s hypnotic sequences and emotional conflicts, it has also haunted my senses and heightened my anticipation for the tension that would ensure. That alone is enough to dispel the idea that it’s a tedious and melodramatic affair. Yes, it’s hyperactive and yes it’s visually unrestrained but damn, it’s one hell of a movie.

In my view, Friedrich Nietzche’s book on philosophy titled ‘The Birth Of A Tragedy’ is somewhat linked to the film in the sense that Black Swan’s interpretation lie in the way that nature and tragedy are set up to be. To be fair, there will be endless interpretations of the film and mine is just one out of many. But I think that in order to fully appreciate the beauty in what Natalie Portman has portrayed in Nina is essential. It is only through her flaws that I also see her complete beauty and only through the film’s depressing moments do I appreciate the fixed balance dichotomy between light and darkness, desire and repression, id and ego. Black Swan’s entrancing dance sequences relates somewhat to Nietzsche’s notes on greek tragedy and music; Notice how the ballads in the film rise and fall periodically, with crescendos and dimineundos that mirror Nina’s oscillating state of mind. Natalie Portman and her double do well to convey the the polar opposites of effeminate grace and unbridled release that torment Nina during her performances. She battles not her inner demons but her conflicted nature. I read that Aronofsky had many takes and rehearsals for his dance sequences. It’s no wonder that he was able to surface the raging tempest of the mind so well. Everything from flawless acting to musical lyricism to contrasting imageries of black and white pour out in perfect yet painful harmony. As each dance progressively becomes more challenging and demanding, so too do the lines between the black and white swan.

What is more powerful than pleasing the audience? Shocking them. I’m inclined to name a few more films like Under the skin and Mulholland Drive. It might just be my taste but there’s no point shocking someone without telling them why. Though the abovementioned films have got me jumping right out of my seat, Black Swan does it with brutal simplicity. It’s not abstract which is why I like it so so much. You don’t spend time wrecking your head thinking why Nina did this or that and instead are left to mull over the lasting consequences of the character’s actions. Black Swan’s may range from being a psycho-sexual study to a director’s symphonic masterpiece, but in the end, it’s destructive melancholy is a psychedelic look at our unresolved natures.

P.S. This was my second best movie of 2010 behind Inception. The Social Network is third. And The King’s Speech is nowhere to be seen 😉

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Trance (2013) Review

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After an art heist gone wrong & a gash on the head resulting in his memory loss, art auctioneer James McAvoy finds himself in a hairy situation with a group of criminals. Rosario Dawson is the hypnotherapist hired to unlock the mystery of a missing painting buried deep in McAvoy’s mind – to lay things bare & help him out of a close shave with the criminals.

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Okay – I’ll try to take this review seriously now…

I like most of Danny Boyle’s films but wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. 28 Days Later is by far my favorite and I also really like Shallow Grave, Sunshine & Trainspotting. I haven’t watched 127 Hours or Slumdog Millionaire (they don’t really appeal to me) but, obviously, Slumdog won lots of Oscars. So… Maybe I went to Trance with expectations that were too high as he’s an Oscar winning director with some films I’ve really enjoyed. What I’m taking ages to say is this: Trance was a huge disappointment.

The movie starts with an art auction & James McAvoy’s art auctioneer telling us in voiceover what you do in the event of an attempted robbery – you get the most valuable painting to a safe place & it’s his job to do this. I thought this movie started out GREAT. The art heist right at the beginning was very exciting and I liked the music and everything was all “slick and cool” and I was like “Yep, this is a Danny Boyle film”. If only the rest of the movie had lived up to the beginning…

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During the heist, McAvoy’s character is getting the main painting (Goya’s “Witches In The Air”, worth £25 million in the film if I remember correctly) to its safe place when he’s confronted by one of the thieves (Vincent Cassel) and, after a brief struggle, gets knocked unconscious and develops amnesia. The painting disappears and only McAvoy’s character knows the truth of what’s happened to it. Unfortunately, he now can’t remember. This is where, as said earlier, Rosario Dawson comes in as the hypnotherapist who tries to help McAvoy to recover the painting.

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Sounds like a great plot, doesn’t it? It is! But then it twists and turns and twists and turns some more and you get the whole “Who’s really the good/bad guy/girl? Who’s on whose side? Who’s being double-crossed? Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? What parts of this movie are real and which bits are just part of a hypnosis-induced trance???”. All of which are fine as long as the many twists & turns are handled well (and, more importantly, you CARE enough to follow all the twists & turns). This is where Trance failed for me. I just didn’t care.

The movie becomes a complicated mess. And I didn’t care enough about any of the characters to try to follow along. It’s like Inception done poorly (no trouble following that one – it was good enough to hold my interest). And the criminals were a bit like if those in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels had been completely uninteresting & humorless. Yeah – good description I think: Trance is like an inferior cross between Inception & Lock Stock.

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As for the actors in this, everyone was “fine”. Vincent Cassel was the only one I really felt was the right fit for the role. James McAvoy was okay but just not QUITE right. I don’t know who may have been better in the role, though – I think the decision to cast him wasn’t a bad one. Rosario Dawson also didn’t feel quite right. She did well enough. Meh. I just don’t care! I don’t think anything is the fault of the actors anyway – I think it’s the script that’s to be blamed.

Before I trash this too much (I’m feeling kind of bad – I really do love 28 Days Later!), here’s the good points:

The Art. I wish I had any sort of knowledge about art. I liked seeing the artwork in this. Obviously Goya’s “Witches In The Air” is the one the whole plot revolves around but there’s a good (trance) scene later on showing some other famous missing paintings. And the overall look of the movie is good (of course – it’s a professionally made Danny Boyle film). The only thing I hated was Rosario Dawson’s ORANGE apartment (at least I think it was her place? Saw this four days ago & already forgetting it – the sign of a not-very-good movie). Seriously, I hate the color orange! What does that say about me? Love green! Someone analyze me. Never mind – I’m sure I can just Google that. 😉

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The Music. Danny Boyle is known for good music in his films. I think the music in both 28 Days Later & Sunshine is especially fantastic. And, of course, Trainspotting! Once again, Boyle worked with Rick Smith of Underworld for Trance. The music in Trance isn’t quite as good or as memorable as in the other Boyle films I mentioned but it’s still pretty good. And there’s an UNKLE song in it! Yay!

Summary: Starts out great but then turns into a complicated mess. Slick, cool and stylish as to be expected from a Danny Boyle movie but it would be nice if that could go along with a good script and characters I care about in any sort of way. So… Meh. I hate saying that about a Danny Boyle movie but, unfortunately, that’s what it is. Other than that one part…

Holy full-frontal female nudity!!!!

Boom! WTF? That suddenly came out of nowhere! I’m not a prude (seriously – look at a couple of my posts over the last couple of weeks). But Bloody hell… Was that really necessary?! And then they gave a really pathetic “reason” for having that in there. Ha! Excuses excuses. So the movie starts with a gash on the head and then… Well. Yeah. Not going there. You want to see it now, though. Don’t you. 😉

My Rating: 6/10

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UNKLE – Hold My Hand