Actual conversation in the bathroom while the closing credits were still going…
Dude 1: “You just come out of Black Swan?”
Dude 2: “Yeah.”
Dude 1: “What the hell was that?”
What that was, my friends, was a Darren Aronofsky film. Visual, trippy, and probably the best third act I’ve seen in the past twelve months. Natalie Portman headlines a great cast in this film about a ballerina cast in the lead role of ‘Swan Lake’, but who’s encouraged/manipulated into getting in touch with her ‘passionate’ side to play the role of the Black Swan. So how does a complete control freak react when they start to give in to their natural impulses? Well, there’s your movie.
Natalie is still considered the frontrunner for the Oscar (especially after the Globes). I think her odds are pretty good. Like I said in the intro, when the film gets into the third act, it’s her movie. I tried to wrap my head around who else right now could mix that fragility/upper class/artiste type of character that she plays her, but no one came to mind. This film (like most of Aronofsky’s) isn’t for everybody, but it’s definitely interesting.
To paraphrase the Sports Guy, the ‘underdog boxer’ genre has probably been worn dry. Like the gangster genre, boxing has created some of the greatest films ever made (with the Rocky series and Raging Bull immediately coming to mind). The standard is ridiculously high. I go with that lead in to say The Fighter is a good film but not the best of its genre. It’s based on the true story of Micky Ward and his older brother who was also a boxer but had a serious drug problem. (As an aside, the film ends with only a title card mentioning the Ward-Gotti trilogy. This got a giggle out of me as a casual boxing fan, don’t get any hardcore boxing fans started.)
Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, but the heavy lifting in this film is done by Christian Bale as the older brother and Melissa Leo as the overbearing mother of the boys. This is the second time I’ll cop to a film geek bias: there’s a generation of kids who think of Bale as Batman (and I’m not complaining). But to see him here in the loser brother role, I thought he was good, but I also have seen enough of Bale’s work over the years to not be overwhelmed by his performance. A lot of people say he has the inside track for Best Supporting Actor in a few months. If that’s true, I’ll be cheering for him, but I don’t know if I like Jeremy Renner’s performance in The Town better. By the way, Daniel Day-Lewis, if nothing else, let’s agree the Method torch has officially been passed to one of these two guys.
Film snobbery aside, when we finally got to the title fight in the third act, I was into it. The music, Bale’s “you’re doing this for all of us” speech, Mom and a ‘plain-looking’ Amy Adams in the front row, it was all done effectively. Walking out, I was actually that Mark Wahlberg should get credit for not ‘hi-jacking’ the movie away from the supporting actors (being the ‘lead actor’ but not ‘the star of the movie’ is a talent, I’m now convinced). Maybe he took pointers from Bale who is in a similar boat playing Batman to Heath’s Joker a couple years back.
The opinions I’ve heard about The Kids Are All Right have run the gamut from ‘great indie film’ to ‘whatever word is the opposite of misogyny.’ It got a Globe nomination for Best Screenplay and on the whole I’ve heard good things so I had to check it out.
I don’t know whether this is a good or a bad thing, but I think there’s some value on all the opinions I’ve heard, good and bad. The premise (a pair of kids who were the products of an artificial insemination seek out and find their biological father) is filled with landmines, while being original at the same time. What starts in the first act as a lighthearted 21st Century “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, takes a rather interesting (and for my tastes too convenient) turn halfway through the story. The turn didn’t ruin the film for me, I just thought there were other ‘conflicts’ that could have been used.
That said, the three main actors all did a great job creating sympathy for their characters. Mark Ruffalo plays ‘the Dude’ who suddenly finds out he’s created this family, and now in middle age wants to be a part of it. Julianne Moore plays the slightly more free-spirited of the two Moms of the family; with Annette Bening getting the rather thankless role as the ‘head’ of the family, who comes across as a hardass until well into the third act. Surprisingly none of them were nominated for the Globes though in this film where they all have fairly equal screen time, they may have been seen as an ensemble no one outshined the other two (which I can’t argue).
Good, quiet film that may or may not pick up momentum the next couple of months. We’ll see.
The Town is one of the movies that’s been hanging around all year and has a shot at a Best Picture nomination next year now that they’ve expanded the field to 10 films. A friend on Twitter referred to this flick as Set It Off for white folks, and I get where they got that analogy from. Both films follow a heist crew with members who want to get out, but as they say with that lifestyle there’s no retirement, only jail or death…
Ben Affleck does another solid directing job here; I wonder how much of it is choice and how much of it is what’s put in front of him, but he certainly has the ‘Boston crime drama’ genre down to a tee. Jeremy Renner got a Globe nom for his supporting work as the ‘loose cannon’ of the crew. I think I’m in the minority here but I was noticeably bleh about this one. Don’t get me wrong, he did a great job with the accent and the ‘a-holeness’ of the character, but as someone who’s seen a lot of his work, this particular performance didn’t stand out more than the others. I heard Affleck’s director’s cut of this film was great though, so maybe there’s more in that cut that I didn’t get out of the studio version.
More reviews coming soon…
While not the crowd pleaser that Slumdog Millionaire was (and let’s be honest, few films are), 127 Hours has all the makings of another Oscar-caliber film for Danny Boyle. Based on the true story of a young man who got trapped in a Utah canyon and had to cut off his own arm to survive, James Franco gives possibly his best overall performance in this film (and that’s saying something in what already has been one hell of an acting career).
I was at a screening where Danny Boyle and the writer (fellow Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy) acknowledged that the pitch (a man is stuck in a canyon for five days and cuts his arm off) is…not the most cinematic idea you will hear. It’s a testament to the script, direction, and acting that they found ‘the human element’ in the story and kept the film engaging throughout. When we get to the inevitable gruesome part, even though everyone in the theatre is completely aware that James Franco has both arms and is simply acting, you still get squeamish when he does what he has to do to get out of his situation. (And I’m personally thankful the guy sitting next to me went out like a complete sissy; he made me clenching my teeth seem normal by comparison).
Hosting duties aside, I’m sure I’ll be talking about Franco and this performance again in the next couple months.
There’s Chris Nolan and there’s everybody else right now.
That was my first thought walking out of Inception a little while ago. I’m not saying there aren’t other filmmakers capable of making films as thought provoking or visually interesting as him; nothing could be further from the truth. But with the billion dollar Dark Knight franchise under his belt, Nolan (clearly) has the green light from Warner Brothers to make (dare I say it) original types of films on the budgets he needs to make them. And to the benefit of the rest of us, he uses that creative freedom and makes films like Inception.
It’s damn near impossible to recommend this movie without sounding like some elitist. But the film is really intelligent, and there’s a lot to the plot, and a lot to keep track of. And when it’s over you’re still not 100 percent sure of what you’ve seen. Various films that are running through my mind as I think of this: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Truman Show, Heat, Eternal Sunshine, The Dark Knight. Inception is in that category: you get distracted for a minute and you’ll feel lost. You’ll feel lost anyway but that’s part of the movie’s plot. The title refers to the idea that an idea can be planted into your subconscious (an ‘inception’). And trust me when I say that gives away absolutely nothing.
So it’s probably obvious how much I liked the film, but I’ll end on this note as a Batman and a film geek. The general rule with film trilogies is the third one always sucks. No need to rehash all the film trilogies here, you know the rare ones where the third film is better than the second (or first). So up until now most Batman geeks have agreed that after The Dark Knight, if Nolan wanted to walk away we were fine with it. No way he was topping that. He announced he was coming back, and we were happy but still not setting our expectations high he could top himself.
Now…I’m thinking it’s at least possible…