Daily Archives: December 20, 2010

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The problem with movies in which the main character begins to hallucinate is that, as a viewer, you are powerless.  The director, not you, gets to decide what’s “real” and what is not.  If he so chooses, anything goes:  Is that a reflection of the heroine in the mirror, or is it the image of a dead woman?  Are those bloody scratches on her body just a hallucination, or are they genuine?  As a mere member of the audience, you can only decide if the filmmaker is playing fair.

Director Darren Aronofsky in Black Swan goes a little too Freddy Krueger for my taste.  His protagonist, a young ballerina named Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), endures one too many surrealistic episodes – often accompanied by that cheapest of movie tricks, the dreaded LOUD SOUND EFFECT! – and these Grand Guignol excursions damage the dramatic flow and credibility of the story.

But Black Swan is never boring.  The acting is first rate, including Barbara Hershey as the creepiest stage mother this side of Kim Stanley in Frances, and Vincent Cassel as a man who has discovered there are no Human Resources departments in ballet companies, and thus uses sexual harassment of young dancers as a routine part of his “instruction.”

Portman stars as a young dancer whom everyone pressures because they believe she has talent but lacks the passion to fully capture the role of the Black Swan in Swan Lake.  Portman dances well, and she proves she can fake orgasms with the best of them, but … all this talk of a Best Actress award?  There are scores of close-ups of Portman’s face, looking tense.  Is that how you win an Oscar?  I think I prefer Annette Bening’s more nuanced performance in The Kids Are All Right.

From press reports it’s apparent that Aronofsky was aiming for a film in the tradition of Roman Polanski’s early thrillers.  What he delivers is All About Eve meets A Nightmare on Elm Street.  His film is atmospheric and packed with histrionics, which is entertaining stuff but not particularly memorable.        Grade:  B

 

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Director:  Darren Aronofsky  Cast:  Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau  Release:  2010

 

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Blue1

 

I don’t know a thing about director David Lynch’s personal history.  I haven’t read any Lynch biographies, and am not even sure where he hails from (although I have a vague recollection that it might be Montana).  But after watching his films, I get the impression that young Mr. Lynch was raised prim and proper, a good little Protestant boy who on one fateful day wandered across to the wrong side of the railroad tracks – and was subjected to one massive dose of weird.

I speculate about that because filmmaker Lynch is famously obsessed with the macabre, the odd, and the surreal, and Blue Velvet is a prime example.  Essentially a Hitchcockian spin on a Hardy Boys story, Blue Velvet follows young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student who on one sunny afternoon discovers a severed human ear in a vacant field and decides to conduct his own investigation.  As the story progresses, Jeffrey learns that it is a strange world, indeed.  But whereas Hitchcock used humor to break tension, Lynch opts for bizarre interludes.  There is one scene near the midpoint in which – completely out of the blue – a gay man croons Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” to a rapt, crazed Dennis Hopper.  The scene still has me shaking my head.  What on earth has it to do with the plot — or anything whatsoever?

But it wouldn’t be a Lynch film without such scenes.  Sociopathic Frank Booth (Hopper) and pals are unfathomable to Jeffrey and to us, and yet Lynch makes them feel very real.  Isn’t that a great recipe for what’s truly frightening in life?

Jeffrey learns that there are two sides to everything.  “I’m seeing something that was always hidden,” he tells his girlfriend Sandy.  The small town he calls home is a bucolic Mayberry in daytime – and a dangerous haven for joyriding thugs at night.  Jeffrey has a virginal, sweet-faced blonde (Laura Dern) to woo at a Norman Rockwell soda shop – and a rough-sex-loving lounge singer (Isabella Rossellini) to corrupt him in bed.  There are red robins, blue velvet, and a “Yellow Man.”  There is weirdness galore, or, as Sandy and Jeffrey repeatedly tell each other, “a strange world.”

All of which makes me wonder again:  What in the world did young David Lynch stumble into when he crossed those railroad tracks?        Grade:  B+

 

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Director:  David Lynch  Cast:  Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Jack Harvey  Release:  1986

 

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