Review: ‘Black Swan’

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers

After leaving the cinema, my friend asked which film I would say was better: ‘Black Swan’ or ‘The King’s Speech’. Not an easy choice: both fantastic, and both as different from one another as it’s possible to be. But, after deliberating, I knew the answer: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ won for it’s sheer ability to intoxicate and psychologically invade its viewers’ minds.

The premise is that ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is chosen to play both the delicate White Swan and the devilish Black Swan in director Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassell) new production of ‘Swan Lake’. Tortured by the desire to be perfect and by threats of having her role taken from her, Nina’s journey from becoming a white swan to embracing her inner black swan is absolutely riveting.

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ (Lily) dedication to the film was incredibly obvious: both had trained well, and are reported as having lost weight though their ballerina training. They had an intense chemistry, which helped the plotline enormously, as it was impossible to tell until the very end whether Lily was who Nina thought her to be: the clash of the swans caused a wonderful sense of confusion that caused a yearning for answers. Equally, Cassell’s performance was just as riveting: his ease as slipping between mentor and seducer highlighted the depths of Nina’s transformation, by pushing her to effortlessly metamorphosise from one character to another.

The musical score was beautiful, bringing the passion of the ballerinas, and the psychological decay of Nina, to tense and entrancing heights. It underlined what we knew, and subtly guided towards questions and conclusions, bringing the film to its dramatic climax perfectly. The seamless movement between reality and fantasy led to a fitting resolution, where Nina’s fate was probably the only suitable outcome to the film after the torments the audience had witnessed. Portman’s performance was stunning: she was delicate and fragile, but convincingly moved to dark and devious without losing any of her momentum. With Kunis’ support, Nina’s inner struggle was perfectly framed within the reality she had been separated from unknowingly. Barabara Hershey, as Nina’s long-suffering mother Erica, definitely needs credit in this respect as well: the guilt felt when realising she wasn’t the one at fault, but the one trying to fix the damage single-handedly complemented the dawning realisation of Nina’s descent into decay.

‘Black Swan’ was a creepy, wonderful and haunting film, and I, for one, am desperate for an encore.

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Review: ‘The King’s Speech’

Colin Firth as George VI

Nominated for fourteen BAFTAs , twelve Academy Awards, and seven Golden Globes, ‘The King’s Speech’ has left audiences speechless. With a simple yet moving plotline, Coling Firth’s King George VI is able to create and maintain a depth of character that will leave you riveted.

The story is simple enough: King George V passes away, leaving his son to become King Edward VIII, only for him to abdicate to marry the twice-divorce Wallis Simpson and leaving an unsettled Albert to ascend to the throne. The issue being, Bertie has never been royally built: his stammer, alongside his other habits beaten out of him at an early age, has cost him both the publics, and his own, confidence. His dutiful wife Elizabeth pushes him to try Lionel Logue, speech therapist, who insists on unorthodoxy to tackle the root of the problem, and helps Bertie lead up to one of the most important moments of his regal life.

The best bit about the plot is how unwavering it is: the writers are dedicated to Bertie’s story, and at times when they could have been distracted (with Wallis Simpson, war…) they only acknowledged their periphery before returning to their tunnel vision, and while enough is incorporated to keep the story afloat, it is all kept in to ensure Bertie’s story is fully and beautifully explored. One of Colin Firth’s most touching moments as the wonderful Bertie is telling his daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, the story of the royal penguin, acting as a silent advocate for love conquering all and covering over the fault lines to smooth the way for their own private lives. Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, is wonderfully portrayed by the beautiful Helena Bonham Carter, whose strength and solidarity with her husband show a united front, helping to collect fragments of the future king’s life in order to provide unity and faith in his abilities. This was also seen in the selfish and impulsive Prince Edward (Guy Pearce), whose taunting of ‘B-B-B-Bertie’ leaves both Firth’s character and the audience speechless: cruelty comes in many forms, but it strikes hardest when loved ones knock us down. It’s horrific to witness the lack of familial support when Elizabeth has been attempting to prop up Bertie’s courage, although Edward’s act of dishonour frames Bertie’s relationship with Logue perfectly. While Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue has been silently breaking down barriers, this incident pushes their friendship together to unify their desires, leading to Logue’s place of honour at the coronation (again, something that could have become it’s own issue with the Bishop’s anger, but dealt with smoothly to continue the story).

Logue and Bertie’s friendship was dealt with brilliantly: it appeared as if from nowhere, despite knowing it would inevitably happen. Logue doesn’t push or force Bertie into action, he sits and accepts his decisions but instantly springs into action when his call comes. Driving through wartime Britain for Bertie was a brilliant finale to this ever-building relationship, turning the emotional into a physical act to show the lengths he would go through for his friend. His gentle approach isn’t too invasive on the screen, which means the story glides along instead of forcibly feeding us the key information. It also means Logue’s step into unfamiliar territory with regards to Edward is a point of confusion for audience emotions: who do we feel sorry for, the friend spurned for giving advice, or the prince resisting power through fear? Their reunion strengthens the resolve, and heightens Bertie’s bravery and Logue’s nobility: they both needed each other to realise when they were wrong and how to be right.

It’s a stunning film, showing that power isn’t all popular opinion would make it out to be: the King needs support to function and lead with dignity, determination, and above all, belief in the power of your own voice. King George VI deserved to be heard, and it’s a voice everyone should listen to.

Review: ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’

To clear up any confusion, I am on about the film here, not Dumas’ novel, which I have yet to read. No: here, I am on about one of Leonardo Di Caprio’s more brilliant yet less remembered role in the 1998 film version.

In fact, I’m still watching the film, the last time having been when I was waiting for my dad to pick me up at my nan’s, when we stumbled upon it on one of the terrestrial channels – and I have to say, I’m incredibly glad that we did.

Di Caprio has to have pulled off one of the greatest double acts on screen – I don’t think there’s a moment when I connect Louis and Phillipe as the same actor. When Phillipe says that he wears the mask, it does not wear him, the same can be applied to the gorgeous Leo’s acting – he defines the role, the role does not define him. He strives to a level of believability that is unequalled in other major films.

The storyline itself is fabulous – it could be incredibly complicated, but instead it is kept to a heart-warming simplicity that allows it to connect with the audience. The straight and narrow path that leads from beginning to end rarely veers from its path: Raoul (Peter Saarsgard) is killed early on, which serves to show Athos’ devotion to Phillipe, and likewise Christine (Judith Godreche) only serves as a vehicle to highlight Louis’ corruption. The only negative in this is the underuse of D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), whose constant puppy-dog eyes could have been extended from his dutiful heartbreak to absolute turmoil at his inner conflict, but I don’t feel he was really given the chance to do this.

The valor of the three musketeers is preserved in the spectacular gunfire scene towards the end – walking through the smoke encapsulates the legends of the men who cry ‘One for all, and all for one’. The other musketeers decision not to fight Athos (John Malkovich), Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) and Aramis (Jeremy Irons), instead branding them ‘magnificent’, brought their quest into a new and even more honourable light, and underline their heroism. D’Artganan’s tragic demise and Phillipe’s reaction to it embellish this point, creating a resonance as you realise the price at which liberty comes.

Of course, the film isn’t all dark and revolutionary. The inclusion of Porthos as a comedic characters lightens the atmosphere, ensuring that the film doesn’t cause an onset of depression. Although it may cause an onset of blindness when a naked Porthos tries to hang himself after failing to literally roll in the hay with his trio of women. If Shakespeare teaches us anything, it’s that a little light relief can go a long way to stopping your audience bringing the barn down in their own fit of depression, a lesson Randall Wallace and co. have done well to learn from.

‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ is a feat of several acting legends pulling together to live the famous saying of ‘one for all and all for one’, especially in showing that one actor can play all roles spectacularly without treading on his own feet, and for that, Leonardo Di Caprio’s less-renowned film deserves to be placed near the likes of ‘Titanic’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for its ability to capture hearts and minds.

Review: ‘Inception’

It was a fascinating concept: what could happen when people can invade your dreams and find out the deepest, darkest parts of your subconscious? Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ went one step further, seeing dreams turn to devastation when the idea became a nightmare.

Leonardo Di Caprio’s welcome return to cinema screens saw him playing the devastated husband and father, whose illegitimate wandering into dreams to extract information had left him alone and unsatisfied with his life, until inception offered him a way out of his isolation. Di Caprio’s role as Dom Cobb allowed him to connect with the audience through his hidden grief, which was especially poignant upon him finding Saito in limbo and struggling to contain his emotion when having to recapture reality. Marion Cotillard complimented him perfectly as an externalisation of his internal grief, combining the hurt, devastation and anger Cobb felt within his grief to show his struggle with his original experience of inception.

Two of the strongest characters, in my opinion, came from the supporting actors: both Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Eames (Tom Hardy) were able to finish the construction of a reality dominated by the subconscious perfectly, completing the illusion of the team instead of leaving Di Caprio to carry the weight of the script on his own. Levitt’s smoothness and Hardy’s comic timing enabled them to add an extra level of depth to the story which enabled it to be successful, and without their abilities I don’t think the storyline would have been as easily portrayed. Equally, Cillian Murphy (as Robert Fischer) was fabulous, as he played the unaware victim perfectly to show that level of vulnerability that we expected within his dreams.

The only thing that truly confused me was the ending: was it the inevitable ‘it was all a dream’ ending? In one way, this is genius, as it makes you continue thinking about the film for days after you’ve seen it. On the other hand, for someone like me who needs a definitive ending, it can prove very irritating. Either way, though, it proved a ‘happily ever after’ for Cobb, as whether dreaming or not, he finally got to call out and make his children turn around for him.

Review: ‘Toy Story 3’

Just a quick warning – don’t read if you’ve not seen the film and want to!

After hearing the hype and avidly watching the first two installments of ‘Toy Story’, I was incredibly excited to see the third movie. Everyone warned me to take tissues, and I’ve not yet seen a negative word said about it, and I’m certainly not going to use any negative words in this review, although while I’m thinking about it, the only unnecessary part of watching the film was the 3D glasses: the film would have lost nothing by being watched in 2D, but I definitely see this as a positive, as ‘Toy Story’ isn’t about gimmicks, it’s about getting in touch with everyone’s inner child.

Eleven years after ‘Toy Story 2’, Andy is all grown up and off to college, leaving the toys wondering where they’re animated lives are heading next. The storyline sees them accidentally taken to day care, where a disenchanted bear refuses to let them leave: the relative simplicity of the storyline left room for both the hilarious and the touchingly bittersweet moments that really gripped your imagination and your heart, as well as making you feel thoroughly disgusted with yourself for ever throwing a toy out. My favourite line had to be “Quiet, musical hog!”, serving as both a reminder of how effortlessly funny ‘Toy Story’ is to all ages.

Tom Hanks, as ever, was fabulous in his role, and allowing Woody to be the hero and Buzz (Tim Allen) to go from obnoxious spaceman to charming Spaniard to our favourite space-hero saw the characters to do a full circle, linking the beginning of their union to the end of Andy’s childhood. I genuinely thought Woody would be off to college with his owner, but Andy’s touching farewell to everyone’s favourite cowboy showed just how wrong Lotso had been: you’re never abandoned, people just have to learn to move on.

I also appreciated how they bent stereotypes: Barbie and Ken in particular were examples of this, moving seamlessly between their blonde and camp surfaces respectively, to being both the intellectual and the prince charming/bodyguard figure, showing no one is as simple as they seem on the outside, a message previously seen in characters such as Jessie, (Joan Cusack) with her loud exterior and quiet fear of being alone.

The ending, as expected, had the tears running down my cheeks as I struggled to cope with the emotion of the incinerator and of Andy giving up his childhood friends. It resonated particularly with ┬áme when Andy’s mom saw his empty room, as both me and my mom had our teary moments when I left for the first time, and having seen the series of films triumphantly storm the cinemas, it felt like the end of an era. I’d always imagined the toys being forever Andy’s, but the realism of the third film reminded us that we all have to grow up, but that despite that change, our childhood’s still define us. The decision to wait to produce the third film in the franchise was one of the best Disney/Pixar have ever made, allowing them ensure the toys were back in town with a resounding impact. I know exactly which DVD will be at the top of my Christmas list, and I can only imagine that I’ll love those toys for infinity, and beyond.

Review: ‘Shrek: Forever After’ 3D

Once in the cinema with the daft glasses on, my friends and I realised that none of us could remember what on earth happened in the third ‘Shrek’ film, all we could remember was the Justin Timberlake was in it at some point. Despite this, we were prepared for the fourth and final installment to be as brilliant as the advertising had made it out to be, and this time, we weren’t let down.

The plot was touching and simple, which allowed the writers to build around it with new characters, fantastic 3D effects, and, of course, the ritual comedy aspects. The best example of the latter was definitely Puss in Boots’ obesity: in fact, I’m sure I love the fat cat much better than the regular one, and Antonio Banderas’ suave voice was comically mismatched to his hilarious exterior. Eddie Murphy, I feel, was underused: he’s an incredibly funny man and very talented in that respect, and I don’t think I can remember a point at which he really did or said anything that reflected that. Mike Myers was good, although because Shrek was carrying the storyline on his back, he didn’t have much opportunity to provide any light relief outside of the plot. One of the best sideline comic moments was definitely a little boy repeatedly going ‘Do the roar!’ to Shrek, as well as the massive Goose that accompanied Rumplestiltskin in his wrongdoings.

The 3D effects were brilliantly done, and while there were moments when you knew something had been shot differently to accompany this (like the camera panning from a side view of a carriage to the front, so the horses were galloping towards you), but the film hadn’t been fitted around the notion of it being 3D, which is definitely the hallmark of a successful movie.

‘Shrek’ is a film I heavily recommend, particularly in 3D, as it is a remedy for the forgettable third film and provides a fittingly sentimental end to an otherwise brilliant series of films.