Black Swan

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Damien
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Postby Damien » Wed Dec 22, 2010 3:06 am

I happened to see back-to-back two films featuring overbearing mothers.

Mother (Bong Joon-ho) This is a black comedy about the excesses of maternal devotion. The film is amusing, if one-note, and would have been more incisive and had more impact if the two main characters weren't such exaggerations and the treatment not so broad. The son (Won Bin) is such a dolt and the mother (Kim Hye-ja) is so single-minded and slavish in her attachment to her boy that they bear little resemblance to real people, and satire doesn't work without recognizable human beings on screen. Bong's The Host suffered from a similar miscalculation in emphasis.
5/10
=====================
The Black Swan

Mother may be exaggerated and overly-broad, but compared to Darren Aronofsky's indulgences, Bong seems as restrained as Eric Rohmer in comparison. Black Swann is utterly ludicrous but not in a meaningful (or even fun) way. He seems to be trying to channel Roman Polanski (most specifically, Repulsion and The Tenant) but is so inferior in every way as to be painful.

BS is a film of wretched excesses and Aronofsky's over-kill with visual cues gets embarrassing. Aronofsky simply does not trust the intelligence of his audience. A more talented director, would not have stocked Natalie Portman's bedroom with stuffed animals and have it little girl pink. A filmmaker with greater intelligence and subtlety (and subtlety is not what you look for in an Aronofsky picture) would have had a single Teddy Bear and maybe a music box, and we still would have gotten her arrested development. Moreover, no young woman who had grown up on New York's Upper Wet Side and had been involved in ballet for 4 years would have been remotely the naif that Portman is. She's never sympathetic or likable, just some sort of oddity. There are some interesting themes and pyschological underpinnings to the material, but what Aronofsky has made is one step away from a slasher flick. Returning to Polanski, there is so much more sustained tension and suspense (not to mention intelligence) in The Ghost Writer, where everything is suggested and implied, than in this bit of nonsense. Worst single example of wretched excess among the many possible choices -- the paintings crying. Aronofsky should have been forced to watch all of Val Lewton's ouevre before he became involved in BS. How did this thing ever become seriously considered for award recognition is beyond me -- I guess online fan boys have more power than we thought.

Oh, and I also don't get the acclaim for Libatique's cinematography. The whole film has a mudddly look to it, the ballet scenes no more vivid than the exterior shots which make New York City look like Omaha.

Big, I think you nail the movie and its inspirations down perfectly, and Tee, I too, love the casting of Ryder. Portman is essentially the Ryder of the next generation (albeit a moire talented actress). Both starting in films in their early teens, both Jewish, sharing similar looks, each with a somewhat tremulous acting style.
3/10




Edited By Damien on 1293009894
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Postby Big Magilla » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:36 pm

Count me among the dissenters. The best thing about it is the score, and that's mostly Tchaikovsky.

It's a little Red Shoes, a little All About Eve, a little Carrie and a lot Fatal Attraction, with enough gore to satisfy Aronosfsky's most ardent supporters.

Portman's acting is good, but her dancing is a joke. Fortunately it's photographed mostly from the arms up. The best acting Kunis does is as a corpse, if only because that's the only time she isn't speaking. Hershey's over-acting is more deserving of a Razzie than an Oscar nomination.

Aside from Portman, I liked Cassel channeling Anton Walbrook, best.

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Postby Eric » Sat Dec 18, 2010 1:33 am

Pretty sure the movie's subjectivity to Portman's psyche usurps deference to The Dance. Doesn't she spend the whole movie afraid of being a failure as a ballerina?

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Postby FilmFan720 » Fri Dec 17, 2010 11:28 pm

But ballet isn't about the chaos, it is about the form and the structure and the fluidity. The way I read the film, it is about the power of art and the artist, and how giving yourself completely over to the role (in this case by becoming the swan) you find meaning in life. If that is the case, at some point you need us to appreciate the power of the art form, which Aronofsky's camera never allows us to do. These are characters whose life finds structure from the chaos of their real life on the dance floor...so let us relax on the floor and embrace the art form (which, granted, is hard to do when you have the weak, limited dancing of Portman and Kunis)
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Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 17, 2010 9:39 pm

I don't think he was interested in dance as fluid, but rather as chaos. I understand not agreeing with the choice, but I don't think he had a single fluid choice in Black Swan.
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Postby FilmFan720 » Fri Dec 17, 2010 9:26 pm

Sabin wrote:(FilmFan720 @ Dec. 17 2010,4:44)
Sabin, I surrender to you on the technical aspects of the cinematography (you know much more than I ever will), and maybe it was the projector I saw the film on, but the film had that dark and gritty look that really low-budget digital documentaries have.

I know literally next to nothing. If it looks like there is some kind of faint snowing on the screen, it is film grain. If it looks like there is some form of glitch or malfunction, like there is negative space in the blacks, the total absence of color, then it's digital.

Hmm, you learn something new everyday!

This still doesn't make up for the way that Aronofsky chose to film all of the dance sequences, which were so frenetic that you lost all the fluidity of the dance.
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Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:53 pm

(FilmFan720 @ Dec. 17 2010,4:44)
Sabin, I surrender to you on the technical aspects of the cinematography (you know much more than I ever will), and maybe it was the projector I saw the film on, but the film had that dark and gritty look that really low-budget digital documentaries have.

I know literally next to nothing. If it looks like there is some kind of faint snowing on the screen, it is film grain. If it looks like there is some form of glitch or malfunction, like there is negative space in the blacks, the total absence of color, then it's digital.
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Postby FilmFan720 » Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:44 pm

Sabin, I surrender to you on the technical aspects of the cinematography (you know much more than I ever will), and maybe it was the projector I saw the film on, but the film had that dark and gritty look that really low-budget digital documentaries have.
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Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:35 pm

(FilmFan720 @ Dec. 17 2010,4:17)
I am also going to be a dissenter on the cinematography...the film looked painfully digital today, and for a film where every single character is a ballerina, has no interest in dancing whatsoever.

I couldn't disagree more re: the cinematography looking digital. It was shot mostly on Super 16mm. For the rehearsal scenes, they used the Canon 5D, a freakishly small camera that makes it easier to incorporate visual effects, and for the subway scenes they used the 7D. So there was some digital cinematography in the film but the bulk of it was Super 16mm. I need to do some further reading but I think most of the shots that utilized visual effects were digital, but you would never think from looking at the film that there were two (technically three?) different formats of filming in the movie. I thought they did a pretty awesome job of synchronizing the aesthetics. For the most part you were looking at a kind of grainy film stock that sadly we don't see very often, both re: the amount of grain and the physical film stock itself.

This may just be me but I find film grain to be rather beautiful. Eyes Wide Shut had a similarly grainy feel to it, but they used a 35mm stock.
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Postby FilmFan720 » Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:17 pm

I think that there is some to really like in this film, and I certainly get where the film was trying to go and like the propelling idea, but I don't think that Aronofsky is able to execute the limited visions of the horrible screenplay. I should add that I am not a large fan of Aronofsky...everything I have liked about his films has been based more on the performances he can get out of some incredible actors than anything else.

Here, all of the characters are written are so flat and uninteresting, and the cast not very inspired, that the thing never really soars the way people seem to say that it does. I agree with everyone that you see every twist and turn coming a mile away, and since everyone is playing a completely stock character (the hot new threatening vixen, the egomaniacal director, the controlling mother who turns out to be living out her own dreams through her daughter), and Portman is too limited an actress to carry the film on her shoulders. I am surprised that no one in this thread has yet singled out Vincent Cassell, who may give the most ridiculous performance in any major Oscar contender this year: the character was only missing the twirly mustache, and Cassell spouts his cliched dialogue as if he were the voice of God himself. It is slimy and unbearable.

I am also going to be a dissenter on the cinematography...the film looked painfully digital today, and for a film where every single character is a ballerina, has no interest in dancing whatsoever. Maybe it was Aronofsky and Libatique trying to work around the painfully obvious fact that Portman can't dance a lick, but anytime it comes time to dance, the camera swirls around so ridiculously that you have no idea what is going on or what is supposed to be impressive about it. It is nauseating and pointless (are we supposed to get the idea that ballet is chaotic, because I always thought it was supposed to be fluid and beautiful).
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Postby rolotomasi99 » Mon Dec 13, 2010 2:50 pm

Mister Tee wrote:Cinemavisually, I place this way ahead of The Wrestler.

Is that your word Mister Tee or did you see it somewhere else? I like it.

Whenever I critique or asses a film's overall quality, I always look at both the dramatic (acting, writing, directing) and cinematic (cinematography, editing, set, costumes, score, etc.) aspects. Like I said in another post about INCEPTION, film is a visual medium. Far too often movies are either visually boring or think being big is the same as being good.

I must say I have always appreciated Aronofsky's work as a visual director. Whether it is with micro-budgets (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE WRESTLER) or modestly bigger budgets (THE FOUNTAIN, BLACK SWAN) he is able to use the language of cinema to tell the story.

BLACK SWAN is a movie that would be just as compelling and coherent with the dialogue off. Some might have preferred this given the general attacks I have seen on the screenplay. I am not sure if it was here, but I read someone saying "It took three people to write that screenplay?!?" The story and dialogue were definitely the least compelling part of the film.

The visuals and sound, on the other hand, were some of the best I have seen all year. The cinematography was absolutely amazing. The lighting was outstanding, but the movement of the camera was some of the best I have seen since CHILDREN OF MEN. Editing was outstanding, as was the sound design and score. It was difficult to tell what was a set and what was actual buildings, but the architecture in the film was quite nice.

Natalie Portman impressed me. Most people have focused on the physically demanding aspects of her performance, I was quite enthralled with the emotional punishment she puts herself through.
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Postby OscarGuy » Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:42 pm

I'm toying with ranking this as the best film of the year, but I still have a few more films to see before deciding. It's still a wonderful film. Perhaps I'm not as galled by the lack of realism or the overt sexual elements. I wonder why so many have said this is an All About Eve-style film. I saw little of that in it.

SPOILER That most of her dealings with Kunis turn out to be internal struggles and not actual, physically-manifested confrontations, I think if it's All About Eve, then it's All About Eve on an internal psychological level. /SPOILER

And there's never been a question of Aronofsky paying homage to film history. All of his films have felt in small part derivative, but always original and refreshing. I mean there's being a slave to film history and there's taking it places it hasn't been. I love that about Black Swan. I was always interested. always intrigued.

And this is a strong ending. So many movies these days are so strong to start and just collapse as they careen towards banality that it's nice to see a movie that actually builds to its conclusion. Each act is a narrative crescendo pushing us towards a finale we expect, but which still works.
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Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:27 pm

Shutter Island is a superior example of a fairly routine thriller appearing to have both more and less going on at every given moment. Unlike Shutter Island, Aronofsky knows how to end with a bang.

Until the extended climactic ballet both on-stage and off, Black Swan is mostly of interest for how everyone involved takes the material very seriously, and for Matthew Libatique's cinematography. There are some 150+ visual effects in this film, several of which we don't see. Aronofsky employs beautiful low-lit Super-16 cinematography to dance with Natalie Portman in front of a bevy of mirrors, all trace of reflection completely removed. Now, you couple these effects with this camerawork and a phenomenal sound mix, and it becomes a fairly immersive experience. I found myself rolling my eyes at the film's lip service to compulsion and lipstick lesbian scenes, none of which have any real thought behind them. I was never bored, nor was I really engaged. I wished that Aronofsky had just taken the plunge and immersed the narrative in the realm of the sensory a little bit more.

And then the film becomes an extended ballet on and off the stage in its third act, which is positively lunatic and at times rather thrilling. Just like Black Swan as a whole, it makes no sense but I didn't really care. It's a dumb movie, but at times almost as committed as it needs to be. And from a technical perspective, it's a tour de force.

I've always felt that Natalie Portman is one of our most overrated actresses. She only really works when she's the victim of some cosmic joke, when she's being projected upon and huddling from something. This is the best work she's done, the first time I've really seen it. It doesn't require a lot of range but it reenforces everything I've thought to strong results.
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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:41 pm

It's not surprising Black Swan is dividing critics. It divides me. I can imagine, on any given day, feeling different about it based on mood. This makes it VERY difficult to speak about, and I don't feel up to a full review right now. But let me try some bullet points:

It's hardly original. The snarky take on it would be Repulsion in a Tutu. There are also elements clearly drawn from All About Eve and (stunner) The Red Shoes, with maybe a touch of Carrie in the mother/daughter relationship. So, don't go for some innovative study of ballet culture.

But...it mostly worked for me. As someone not much impressed by Aronofsky's previous work, I'd say this is the film of his that's engaged me most. Cinemavisually, I place this way ahead of The Wrestler, and I was held even when the story went bonkers...

...which it does, though moreso if you're taking the story as naturalism rather than the psycho-sexual horror film I believe it is. I saw this at a crowded mid-afternoon show (across from the film's location!), and there were a number of people who guffawed loudly during some later horrific developments. I hate that kind of ostentatious theatre behavior -- it seems to say, I mock this film, and rebuke anyone here who takes it seriously. That said....on another day, in another mood, I might have had the same feeling about the film. But, today, it held together just enough for me to be impressed by Aronofsky's craft.

I don't want to go into the plot in detail till others have seen it, as there's spoiler potential. Though I think it's fairly clear by midpoint, at least, what's going on.

Natalie Portman is very good. She shows none of the youngster-over-her-head feel that made her Closer performance disastrous. But I don't find it transcendent work. She's tortured throughout, and impressively focused, but the only moment I found I truly loved was her "He picked me, mommy".

It's piquant that Winona Ryder plays the ballerina she replaces, since both Ryder and Portman are actresses whose screen personalities reached out to me when they were quite young, but who have never quite seemed full-scale actresses to me.

I can understand, having seen this, why Hershey and Kunis are both mentioned as supporting candidates but never quite promoted. Both are fine, but neither has quite enough on her plate for a nomination.

I'm not familiar enough with ballet (a real cultural blind spot, for me) to know how much of the music is original, but I liked what I heard. I also think the cinematography and set design are quite exceptional.

Oh, and, nice touch: for most of the movie, the bars of Swan Lake familiar even to us cultural morons are only heard in the cheesiest contexts: a tinkly music box and a ring-tone.

See the damn thing. Even if you hate it, you'll feel like you saw something. And, as I say, on that day, I might agree with your take.

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Postby OscarGuy » Wed Sep 01, 2010 11:13 am

I think the film looks fascinating, especially in the visuals. I don't like Kunis, so I'm dubious about her talent. Though, I could easily see Hershey repping the only major nom for the film.

While I do like most of Aronofsky's films (haven't seen Pi yet), I don't really care much for The Fountain, so if that ups my non-fanboy cred, I'll take it. :) Though, I did like The Wrestler a lot and I consider Requiem for a Dream a masterpiece. So, meh. I like Aronofsky more so than Nolan if that accounts for anything.
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