Black Swan

Title: Black Swan

Director/Stars: Natalie Portman (Actor), Mila Kunis (Actor), Darren Aronofsky (Director)

Genre: Drama

Read: May 18, 2011

Summary: Psycho Thriller, Qu’est-ce que c’est


Reviews for two Natalie Portman movies in a row! She was wasted in the previous Thor, but shows off some serious chops here. This is clearly in a different league altogether.

Directory Darren Aronofsky fuses stylistic traits from his ultra surreal films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) with the more documentary style The Wrestler into this psychological thriller. While oblique in terms of what’s actually happening, it’s positively crystal clear in comparison to that earlier tro. Also, dark as it is, it’s by no means as unrelentingly depressing as Requiem. Can we say “ass to ass” anyone?

First the components. The music’s awesome. I love Swan Lake as a composition. The acting is even better. Natalie, Mila, Vincent Cassel, and Barbara Hershey all stand out. The film is deliberately underwritten, standing on the strength of its style, acting, and direction. For whatever reason, Darren Aronofsky loves walking shots where the camera is anchored low behind the shoulders of the protagonist, or right in front of their chest. Both The Wrestler and Requiem are filled with these. Black Swan has even more. Rest assured, it’s a stylish looking film.

Now as to the overall effect. I enjoyed it, but this certainly isn’t a fast film. It’s more pretty, with a kind of savage quality, much like the ballet itself. Thematically, I take the entire fantastic/horror element to be purely the reflection of ballerina Nina’s internal state of mind. Even her entire feud with Mila’s Lily is in her own head. There is perhaps a more literal fantastic interpretation, but I feel the case for the psychological is much stronger. This is the opposite of say, Pan’s Labyrinth where while again both psychological and mythological interpretations are possible, I prefer the fantastic.

In any case, it’s a unique film. Not at all the typical Hollywood fare — but then nothing Aronofsky has done is.

Movie Review: Thor

Title: Thor

Director/Stars: Chris Hemsworth (Actor), Natalie Portman (Actor), Kenneth Branagh (Director)

Genre: Comic-book Action

Read: May 9, 2011

Summary: Weird.


Other than Marvel’s apparent desire to pull a kind of cinematic equivalent of the 1980s “Secret Wars” there really aren’t a lot of reasons why this movie needed making. It’s actually kind of bizarre, and I can’t really imagine that the Thor (as in comic) audience is immense. Although maybe I’m wrong. But I’m going to comment on it both a writer/viewer and as a historian of the mythological. Despite being a big Marvel fan in the 80s, I never read Thor itself.

It’s competently cast. Everyone plays their roles as they should, and it’s actually a kinda fun movie to watch, particularly the parts with Thor in the “real world.” This is reminiscent of the scenes in Superman 2 where General Zod kicks ass in that town after arriving on earth.

But notice I say “the parts in the real world.” Because a good percentage, at least half, of Thor takes place off in the strange CGI worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim. After a two-second intro with Natalie Portman (hot but wasted) on Earth we are instantly transported into a giant backstory tour of these bizarre places, complete with voiceover by Anthony Hopkins as “all-father Odin.” There is no attempt to fit this information naturally into the narrative, just a ginormous CGI info-dump. The whole mythology has my head spinning, and I love mythologies. It certainly borrows liberally from cookie-cutter components of Norse myth, but its more like Stan Lee learned what he needed to know from Deities and Demigods (a favorite book of mine circa 1982!). I’m still coming to terms with the weirdness of fusing Norse myth and some kind of alien outer space cosmology. I’m not even really sure which it was supposed to be. Are they aliens that mankind interpreted as gods (most probably) or actually just gods?

There is a lot of cool looking stuff, but there is certainly no attempt to capture the nature of ancient polytheistic deity where gods ARE/EMBODY/SUBSUME multiple aspects of natural and physiological phenomenons. Not that I expected this. Still, one can always hope. There are occasionally masterpieces like Pan’s Labyrinth.

Well in any case, while the imagery is kinda like Valhalla meets Star Wars episode 3 cityscape, the whole Asgardian world just doesn’t make any sense. These like super immortal aliens lounge around with their dark age Viking stylings. And they love hand to hand combat. At least they mostly have beards (HISS directed at films about clean-shaven Ancient Greek men). The action in Asgard/Jotunheim also suffers from the way too much CGI factor, particularly the parts on Jotunheim where the five heroic actors are the only non computer elements. The giant legion of frost giants and the bigass ice-troll creature had that weightless feel. Not as bad as in a repulsive pile of excrement like Van Helsing (the film), but bad.

Still, along with the competent casting we do have competent — albiet uninspired — writing. The film, despite the INCREDIBLY weird mythology, is watchable and makes complete sense when taken at a scene by scene level. This is far far more than I can say of a turd like the aforementioned Van Helsing or various Michael Bey type movies. Maybe it stems from the odd choice of Kenneth Branagh as director (he must have needed to refresh his bank account). In Thor, the characters and their relationships are perfunctory, but they do have a kind of (cinematic) clarity. This basically made it fairly enjoyable. And to tell the truth, if they had built the whole film out of Thor on Earth, focusing on his relationship with the underused Ms. Portman, it could have been a good film.

Instead it was interesting, in a weird crazy mythological way.

If you’re curious about some real myth, check out Satyr plays!