Hugo 3D – Review

Hugo 3D(2011) 

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Ben KingsleyAsa ButterfieldChloë Grace MoretzChristopher LeeSacha Baron Cohen.

Accompanied by a series of glorious reviews and voted Best Film of the year by the National Board of Review Hugo has finally hit our multiplex. Obviously the expectations are pretty high!

On paper this has got all the elements to be a true masterpiece. Loveable kids, Paris in the 30s, passion for old movies, a heart-melting story, magical sets, spectacular 3d, an amazing cast… and of course Martin Scorsese himself at its helm. How can it possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately despite all these potentials, the film itself  never really took off for me and for all its good intentions, its great heart and undoubtedly its mastery in film-making, in the end Hugo 3D cannot hide the fact that it’s all over the place and actually just a bit boring.

Yes some of the camerawork is astonishing and Marty certainly knows how integrate 3D into his story, making it more than just a gimmick: right from the beginning we can see the potential as we are treated with a one-shot-wonder which pushes the 3D effects beyond anything we’ve seen before (yes, even Avatar). The camera glides, twirls and swoops across a train station, then jibs up along ladders and flies through giant clock mechanisms. But even this first burst of energy gets a bit tiresome after a while and the film runs out of steam pretty soon after that and not even all those camera swoops, chases and constant music can raise the level of excitement.

The main problem seems to be that Scorsese is so concerned about the message of preserving old films, that he forgets about how to make it an involving and exciting story, and most of all, he forgets who central character should be: the film is called Hugo after all. In fact the most inspired scenes in the movies have nothing to do with Hugo himself but rather with Ben Kingsley’s character, the French magician/film-maker Georges Méliès (yes, the one from the 1902 “Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which you can see below). The scenes around him are probably some of the most inspired… and the best. There’s a certain pleasure in seeing the behind the scenes of such iconic moments in cinema history. There’s a great sense of nostalgia for that comes with them and Scorsese’s attention to details is definitely to be praised. However none of this will probably make any difference to the average viewer who will soon wonder where all this is going and surely will get a bit bored.

It’s hard to tell who is this film aimed at. It is definitely too slow for kids, too diluted for the average person, too rhetorical and over-explicit and a bit silly for the real cinephiles.

Scorsese might have made this film for his kids (or so at least he claims), but it’s clear that he has quite got that open-mindedness about children and that innocence  and sense of wonder (that for example Spielberg has) to tell a story about them which would ring true: both Hugo and Isabel (an unusually wooden Chloë Grace Moretz) speak a language which doesn’t quite belong to them (it’s as if Scorsese himself were talking). In the end it’s clear that the director is much more interested in telling a story about the restoration of old movies, rather than a fairy tale about a kid growing up and finding a family. Funnily enough, even the message about saving old films from the past loses a little bit of credibility (and honesty) the moment in which Scorsese decides to turn Méliès’ movies into 3D.

The fault at the core of all this is that Scorsese is just trying to be too clever and cram too much in it.

In a way he is even trying to make his own “Rear window“, by giving us little stories around the train station, as seen from the eyes of Hugo, just like in Hitchcock’s masterpiece we were treated to glimpses of lives seen through the eyes of James Stewart. However while in Rear Windows those stories where a representation of our character’s state of mind (his doubts and fears about married life) and always seen his own the point of view, here much too often we lose track of Hugo himself and the lives we get too see are completely irrelevant to the central story. Most them even feel a bit misjudged too. Sacha Baron Cohen’s turn as police inspector and his slapstick gags are never really as funny as they should be the romances between the various couples are as moving or even quirky as they should to be and in fact not only they seem to belong to a different film altogether but they also pull the film in too many different directions.

It’s surprising how a film so concerned about the art of storytelling could lose itself so much when trying to actually tell a simple story.

6/10

Four Lions – Review

Four Lions (2010)

Directed by Christopher Morris. Starring Kayvan NovakNigel LindsayRiz Ahmed

Chris Morris is probably not a very well-known figure outside of the UK. The English comedian, writer, actor and director is famous in his own country for his controversial radio programmes and television sketches.

Four Lions is his first feature film but it does suffer from that feeling of a made-for-TV type of product, both in its look, its format and its construction. It is essentially a series of sketches some of which are more successful than others, but as a whole it’s not as strong and coherent film as it wants to be.

Apparently it was originally rejected by both the BBC and Channel 4 as being too controversial, and you can easily see why. The plot tells of a group of inept suicide bombers and it’s clearly a subject anyone would normally stir well away from, especially in a comedy.

“Four Lions”  is undoubtedly provocative and certainly quite a brave film, unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make it a good one and in the end you can’t help feeling a sense of superficiality to the whole thing: it is an honorable but failed attempt.

The main problem is to do with its comic depiction of his main characters  which veers not just toward the parody but the slapstick. This clownish approach makes it all a little bit too over simplistic and doesn’t ring quite true as it probably should.  It’s hard to believe that somebody like Omar, the main character (Rix Ahmed, the only actor worth watching in the whole film) would actually  decide to “work” or even just associate himself  with anyone so stupid like all those people in his group.

What Chris Morris is trying to do is to make the terrorists look like regular guys, likeable people and not just real monsters. However by treating them like silly idiots, it diminishes the message of the film and any emotional response  the audience could have towards them. So one side you have touching (and yet uncomfortable) scenes like the moment where Omar tells the story of  his version to the “Lion King” to his son. On the other hand you get moments which could be straight out a Mr Bean sketch, undermining everything he’s done before and, above all, our suspension of disbelief . These two “styles” don’t necessarily glue together as a film.

I didn’t find the comedy very funny at all (call me sad, but I don’t think I laughed once)  and because of these incongruous way of telling the story, nor I found the film as moving as it was probably trying to be.

On the technical side of things, it’s all done rather on cheap and it shows. There’s nothing remarkable about the photography, the music, or any of the technical aspect of the film, which makes me doubt whether this should have ever been a cinema experience at all.

Furthermore, the thick Sheffield accent and constant British references could even limit its worldwide appeal.

In the end it all comes across just as a brave but very superficial exercise and it’s a real shame because this could have been something quite different, almost life-changing.

5.5/10

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Review

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 

Directed by Edgar Wright. Cast: Michael CeraAlison PillMark WebberJohnny SimmonsKieran CulkinEllen WongJason Schwartzman

After the disappointing box office on its release (Only $11 million in the first week in the US) “Scott Pilgrim…” is coming out on DVD and BluRay , hoping to find an audience and become of one those cult in the years to come, without being confused by the similarly themed “Kick-Ass” or sidelined by the massive “Inception”, in fact according to Wikipedia it became the top-selling Blu-ray on Amazon.com during the first day it was available.

To be honest I was one of the few who wasn’t quite taken by it, even when it first came out. I thought it was witty, original, fast, inventive and on the whole quite fun for the first 40 minutes. However after a while it begins to feel a bit stretched. 2 hours are definitely too much for what’s essentially an excuse to see people fighting as if they were on a video game. Even the eye-popping visual effects, however flashy (including the use of funny captions on the screen that make it all look like a comic) out-stayed their welcome and the novelty wears a bit thin.

The movie is based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and manages to capture their mood and quirkiness quite closely, however, as we all know what works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on film. What starts off as a touching and imaginative depiction of the romantic travails of a twenty-something kid, pretty quickly becomes a rather indulgent affair and starts to feel very long.

The story (if we can call it that way) is about Scott Pilgrim, a bass guitarist, who is in love with the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, but in order to win her heart he has to defeat her “seven evil exes”. Yes, seven of them!! That was the number in the original comic version, I must confess that but after watching the film for about 1 I remember thinking to myself “Oh God, Scott has only beaten the 2 of them!”.

The makers try their best to give a different feel to each of the fight sequences and cram the film with enough appearances from more or less famous actors, but for me that wasn’t enough and by the time I got to the very last fight I just couldn’t wait for it to finish.

It is obviously aimed at the so-called wired generation and people who grew up on Nintendo and PS stations (as opposed to people like me who grew up with Intellevision and Atari consoles), but considering the short attention span of that target audience, it get the feeling that it might be a bit tiresome even for them.

I wouldn’t trash it completely. There are some inspired moments (the Universal logo at the front is one of them), Kieran Culkin’s turn as the gay flatmate is excellent (and makes you wish there was more of him) and the special effects are all top class, most of the pop culture and video games reference are quite clever, it’s just a shame that its irreverent tone loses its edge by being som faithful to the original story. I think the film would have gained something by getting rid off a couple of the “exes”

6.5/10


Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

True Grit – Review

True Grit (2010) 

Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Oh dear, I am not going to be very popular with what I am about to say. Because somehow the unwritten rule about movie reviews of the last few years seems to be that you’re not supposed to speak evil about the Coen Brothers: “they can do no wrong” in the eyes of movie critics and cinema lovers everywhere, and even when they do take a misstep, somehow that gets quickly erased from everybody’s memory as if  it was only a bad dream (like in the case of Intolerable Cruelty for example, or The Ladykillers).

My  relationship with the Coen brothers has been one of love and hate throughout the years. I have seen every movie they have made but  I have got a few confessions to make: I am one of the few people who thought the last 20 minutes of No Country for Old Men were a bit indulgent (though the previous 100 minutes very so good and cinematically perfect that in the end I forgave them for everything) and I was one of those who thought Burn after reading was just simply idiotic. I am also one of the (apparently) few people who didn’t really get A Serious Man, but having said that I loved The Big LebowskiRaising Arizona and still think that with Fargo they reached perfection (Oh, I do love that one!).

Yet, “True Grit” has very little of the Coen’s finger prints on it: a few cold jokes towards the beginning maybe, some beautiful visuals, but that’s pretty much about it. The movie is a pure and simple Western, just like the ones they used to make in the 50s and 60s, and probably just like the one they have been remaking. “True Grit” was also the 1969 movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar. Though Ethan Coen said that the film was more a faithful adaptation to the novel with the same title written in 1968 by Charles Portis.

But enough history also because I haven’t seen the previous version and I haven’t read the novel, so I am just judging this 2010 “True Grit” on its own merit.

For a start, I have some real problem with the main character of the piece: the girl played by Hailee Steinfeld who’s supposed to be 14 and yet somehow speaks and acts like somebody who’s experienced a full life. You’re supposed to take that for granted right from the start, without any real reason behind it, or without being given much background. Well, I just couldn’t quite buy it, and was never quite comfortable with her character throughout the movie. As a result I ended up not caring about her at all. I’m not criticising Hailee Steinfeld’s performance (which was actually rather good), but more the character herself.

Then we have Matt Damon whose performance is probably masked by his fake mustaches and the big hat, because it wasn’t very apparent to me. His character (like many others in this movie)  is pretty much a one-dimensional one, and even his changes of heart are all so predictable that actually they end up being part of his “one-dimensionality”. Josh Brolin who in the last few years is having the time of his life and is enjoying a great comeback, is in for about 10 minutes, so it’s not even worth talking about him. Same goes for Barry Pepper.

Most of the dialogue in the movie has apparently been lifted from the pages of the original novel, which proves once again that something that works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on a movie (a vice-versa or course). Some of the best lines or jokes belong to Jeff Bridges. However most of them felt quite flat to me, nor particularly clever  or surprising. Also I have to confess that between Jeff’s mumbling (erm… sorry, acting) and the thick accent, I must have missed quite a few of them. And it looks like I wasn’t the only one in the theatre where I was.

Not that it matter a lot. Ultimately the film has a very familiar story, with very familiar characters in a very familiar setting. All too familiar in fact, thus without much emotional drive or drama. It all feels rather cold and it really shouldn’t, because this is certainly not an action film, so it should at least been a character piece.

Maybe my tastes are not refined enough, maybe it’s my slight ignorance for John Ford’s movies and my lack of love for John Wayne and Westerns in general, however I can safely say that this is not a movie for everyone. Some people will love it for what it is “a cold and mannered art western” (as the Hollywood Reporter called it), but it is definitely for a more grown up type of audience, certainly not a crowd pleaser in my view.

On its defense I have to say that the movie does look absolutely beautiful which is why I am feeling almost a bit guilty in saying that I didn’t like it . It’s almost  like saying that I don’t like John Ford.

Roger Deakins‘s cinematography rarely disappoints, and certainly in this one it is a work of wonder: from the cold snowy landscapes, to the great wide sunsets.

Carter Burwell’s score contains one of the most memorable and hummable tune  I can remember this year: it alternates understated cues, emotional piano moments, and grand sweeping themes (to match the widescreen vistas) and yet that too feels like it mainly belongs to a different film. Somehow the emotion that the music tries to raise don’t quite match the stark cold approach to the film.

The editing and pace of the movie is all rather slow, once again paying homage to the old Westerns our fathers probably grew up with. It does pick up a bit towards the very end, but to at that point, it is all just too late.

Unfortunately as we all know beautiful visuals, big names and a lovely tune can only take you so far, after a while if you’re not engaged with the story or the characters you’ll just find yourself looking at your watch more times than you should, and that’s never a good sign.

I must confess I was a bit bored.

6/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1   (7.5/10)

Directed by David Yates. Starring Bill NighyEmma WatsonRichard Griffiths,Daniel RadcliffeJulie WaltersBonnie WrightRupert GrintAlan RickmanRalph FiennesHelena Bonham CarterJason Isaacs (hello), Tom FeltonTimothy SpallMichael GambonRobbie ColtraneBrendan GleesonJames PhelpsOliver PhelpsMark WilliamsDomhnall GleesonClémence PoésyJohn HurtDavid ThewlisRhys IfansImelda Staunton

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Right from the very start, when the Warner Bros logo appears, this film feels different. The colours are gray and muted, the sound is a low rumble and even the famous theme from John Williams seems to have given way to a much darker drone. It doesn’t even feel like a Harry Potter movie anymore. It makes the first Chris Columbus movies feel like they are from a whole different universe. And this feeling stayed with me right until the end…

For the last few instalments of the series (possibly from number 3 onwards) we’ve been hearing a lot of “this one is darker” type of lines being bantered about, whether from the critics, the fans or even the film-makers themselves. But it’s never been more true than in this final chapter.

And yet, this is not just a darker and scarier film, it is also a much more mature one too. It’s as if the film-makers have grown together with thier viewers (who are now 10 years older than they were when the first movie got released)

A few years ago, when we first heard about the fact that the seventh and final book was going to be divided into two films, we all cynically thought straight away: “They really want to squeeze every single penny out of this last one, those greedy people”.  And I am sure that must have been one of the reasons, however director David Yates has been able to take advantage of this extra time to give the story a certain amount of depth, sophistication and gravitas that was missing from all the previous instalments.

The pace is a lot slower, for a start. Of course, you get some cracking action scenes too (a particular good one through the Dartfor Tunnel), some great visuals, whether just the perfect vistas and landscapes, the inventive special effects (the scene, in the trailer too,  where there are about 8 different Potters, is all done in one perfect 360 degree shot) and there’s even a beautiful short animation sequence (where “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, is shown as a shadow-play and that by itself should almost be nominated for an Oscar for BEST animated short), but the real core of the movie this time are actually the 3 main characters. Their dialogue scenes take centre stage and are played in the most realistic possible way, with long silences, pauses and meaningful looks.

Even the music is a lot more subtle and understated, aside from being of course a lot darker. There’s a particular chase scene in a forest towards the second half of the movie, where unexpectedly, they decided not to play any music at all, just letting the sound effects play through: that is very very unusual for a blockbuster of this calibre.

The film bravely takes a lot of risks, on one hand, by veering away from what kids are probably expecting, but at the same time it’ll give fans a real treat (and it might even change the minds of some of those Harry Potter haters)! It is a film about emotions, about characters, about friendship first and foremost and it all happens to take place in a magical world. It’s what every single avid Harry Potter reader has been waiting for years.

In a way, the mood of the film is much closer to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, not just in the muted colors of the landscape, or in the grittier looks of the characters (even Harry Potter looks dirtier this time and has even got a bit of a beard!), but in the way it’s paced and constructed.

It’s essentially a road movie (it’s also the first film to be Hogward-free. We only get one quick glimpse of the train going to the school, but that’s about it). There are much fewer laughs throughout and most of them come from Ron (Rupert Grint), but somehow when they do come, they seem to work a lot better than they ever did. Maybe because the whole film is so tense that you are  just craving for a moment to relax let the tension fade. And this is by no means a criticism, in fact, quite the opposite.

The film starts with a perfectly pitched montage scene where we see all the various characters leaving their homes and getting ready to meet. The soundtrack at this point seems to be straight our of one of the Bourne movies, or the recent Batman films by Christopher Nolan. There’s an uneasy tension running all the way through, which just makes you very uncomfortable (and I mean that as a compliment). That feeling somehow permeates the rest of the movie too.

We then cut to a scene where Voldemort, his Death Eaters & Co are all sitting around a table. Floating above them, the body of one of their young victim. Blood dripping from her face, her head bent backwards… This feels almost like the exorcist more than Harry  Potter!

Don’t take me wrong. Kids will be terrified, but will most likely love it too (after all, kids love to get scared… Or at least I used to!).

By all means, this isn’t a masterpiece. For all the tension, the great atmosphere and all the brave intentions, there are some slightly clunky moments here and there too. For example the scene where Ron comes back and rejoins the group, feels a bit “out of the blue” and could have been handled in a better way. Also some of the dialogue doesn’t quite ring true and too many characters come in and out like bell-boys in a hotel. But it’s interesting to notice how most of the stuff that doesn’t quite work in the film, has actually been lifted straight from the books. I think once again the film exposes the weaknesses of the book (which c’mon let’s face it, however gripping, it wasn’t really a great piece of writing. I loved it, in fact I loved the whole series, but I recognize its limits).

The acting from the three main characters still feels a bit dodgy from time to time. They all really try their best: Emma Watson is the best she’s ever been (sadly that doesn’t really mean a lot) and though she even manages to shed a tear at some point, most of her lines fall pretty flat. Daniel Radcliffe does his usual thing where he seems to act with all his body, except his eyes (he seems to like to show tension by stretching his whole body forward) and finally Rupert Grint, who seems to have gained a bit too much weight, but he’s still the best of the three and also he has the best lines. However there’s a good chemistry between all of them. Clearly having worked together for so many films has created a bond between them: some of that shows in the film too.

It is also a real joy to see so many of the other old characters back, even if most of them are around for just for one scene. This series has now officially become the “who’s who” of British Cinema (I was a bit sad that Maggie Smith was not around for this one, but as all the people who have read the book know, she’ll be back in the next one, in style!)

So on the whole, the film deserves a lot of respect for taking brave decisions which are probably going against your typical Hollywood blockbuster, let alone a Harry Potter movie. Mind you, it’s easier to be brave when you have something like this in your hands, this was always going to be a winner with the public! Now it might probably get some new fans from those picky critics out there.

Anyway, it’s good to see them trying something different. It’s good to see them slowing down a bit and taking good care of their characters. It’s good to see them trying to be more mature and stir away from cheesy cliches. I can see why this is JK Rowling’s favorite movie.

I was happy with it too… but then again, I love Harry Potter, so I am probably biased.

Summer 2011 cannot be here soon enough. And after that? Oh dear, I am already so sad that it’s all going to be over…

7.5/10

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My letter published on the Evening Standard

Check out my little email that got published on the Evening Standard about the BAFTA Awards

Black Swan – Review

BLACK SWAN  

USA 2010 . Directed by Darren Aronofsky. With Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder

Black Swan is the 5th feature by director Darren Aronofsky. If you think that his previous works include movies like “Requiem for a dream“, you won’t be too much surprised when I tell you that this latest piece is a pretty strong draining experience. A dark, emotional, nightmarish roller-coaster of a movie, and a real exhausting experience. When I left the preview theatre where I watched this I felt I like I had lost a few kilos.

It is also the most accomplished film by Aronoksky. In a Q&A session after the film, the director revealed how he’d been wanting to make a film about ballet for a very long time, but found it quite hard to get it financed. Finally he managed to combine an old treatment he’d been working on for a long time about understudies and ballet dancer in what can only be defined as a psychological thriller.

It is filmed mostly in very tight handheld close-ups, with muted and colors and a general grainy style reminiscent of his previous film The Wrestler. It is quite unusual to be so close to a ballet dancer while she’s performing. We are so used to watch ballet dancers from an “audience prospective”, that is from enough distance where they all seem so light.and graceful. Their movements effortless. But only when you’re so close to them you can really see and feel their pain: the sound of the heavy breathing, the look of exhaustion on their faces. Aronofsky captures all that and more.

The film is certainly not for everybody’s taste: people may find it too strong or even too slow, but if you are a film lover, I am sure you’ll appreciate its technique.

The music also plays a huge part in the film. Once again the director teams up with Clint Mansel who so successfully had produced the hit soundtrack from requiem for a dream 10 years before. The score builds on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and re-works into a film score, enhancing it, making it sound bigger or more haunting and slowing it down, according to what the mood of the film requires.

It is an amazing achievement, but the real star of the film is Natalie Portman, beautiful as ever,  who gives the best performance of her career so far (Yes, better than in Leon). She manages to capture both that grace and lightness of the white swan and the darker side of the sexy and devilish black counterpart.

The scene where she phones her mother to tell her that she’s got the part in the Swan Lake, all filmed in a tight close ups,  is probably the highlight of the film in terms of acting. You can see every single possible emotion passing though her face: happiness, exhaustion, pride, terror ! She really deserves an Oscar for her performance, though having said that, the film itself is a bit too weird for the Academy and its dark mood that might prevent any other Oscar recognition.

A lot of people have been praising this film calling it a masterpiece, I wouldn’t go that far. It is all fairly predictable if you really want to take it to pieces and, dare I say, slightly over the top with a few moments where it almost falls into a splatter horror without any real need. And of course at the end of the day, it’s all rather ludicrous! Yet it is still closer to “the wrestler” than “Requiem” at least in terms of real emotion and character development, as opposed to “style” over “substance”  (let’s face it, I did loved “requiem for a Dream“, and it was beautiful to watch but it did go on for a bit too long and over-stressed its point) and it did manage to create a palpable atmosphere like very few films have this year.

With this movie Aronofsky confirms himself as one of the most interesting, visionary director working in Hollywood today. I wish him good luck for the forthcoming awards Season (though I wouldn’t want to bet on him, as it’s clear that the King’s Speech and the Social Network will get everything else) and I am looking forward to see what he’ll do next with X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2

(note added after the Oscars 2011). Natalie Portman won the Oscar for her performance in this film, as I had predicted by the way…

OTHER RELATED REVIEWS:

The King Speech
The Social Network


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