Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Swan [2010]
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

A ballet dancer wins the lead in 'Swan Lake'. She is perfect as the delicate White Swan, but slowly starts to lose her mind when she tries to embody the dark Black Swan.

It's hard to describe Black Swan to people. It's part thriller, part fantasy horror, part ballet drama, it offers a mixed bag of genres and styles that aren't easy to explain in just one word. Black Swan is all about the experience, it's a movie that tugs on your senses and forces you to feel what is happening on screen in front of you. That's where the movie is at it's strongest, when it feels more like a personal diary rather than an actual movie.

Darren Aronofsky completely lets us absorb ourselves into Nina's [Natalie Portman] world. I don't think there were that many shots in the film that didn't focus on Natalie, whether it was her face, or body or her visions. The camera comes in real close, every eye brow twitch and focused stare from Natalie is inescapable. In a way, it's almost claustrophobic, but it's needed to really get us right into Nina's mind, too experience the story from her eyes.
That sort of approach to telling the story allows Darren to pull off some really great direction. The ballet segments are beautifully shot, the opening scene being the main highlight of those shots for me. Nina's slow descent into madness offered a much darker 'blink and you'll miss it' type of editing that really toys with your mind and puts you on the exact same roller coaster ride Nina is on. Did she just see what she saw? or was it just a trick of her eye? actually do have to focus in on a few scenes to pick up on the subtle images that scattered throughout some of the scenes. The scene involving Nina venturing into a night club is probably the best way Darren showcased this, with the dance floor soaked in red lighting, and flashes of Nina dancing frantically hidden amongst shots of the Black Swan's face making an appearance within the crowd. You'll see certain things for half a second before you realize what is actually going on in front of you, it's very effective.

Obviously the films next big strong point is Natalie Portman's portrayal as Nina. She was fantastic in the role, not only is she beautiful, but as an actress, she's always had a very strong access to her emotions, and that ability was put into good use in Black Swan. From her uptight innocent beginnings in the film to her out of control, emotionally broken ending final act, Natalie eats it up from start to finish. It's not only her emotional side as Nina that was impressive to see, but the role also asks a lot of her sexually. From her graphic, but awkwardly hilarious masturbation scene, to her aggressive, but very sexy lesbian scene with Mila Kunis, you haven't really seen Natalie be as open as this before.
If the acting itself wasn't impressive enough, her dedication to the role is most obvious when you watch her dance. An entire year was set aside for Natalie to train in ballet for the role, and she pulls it off perfectly. As an entire package, the role was incredibly demanding, and it's amazing to see her pull it off so effortlessly.

The remaining cast in Black Swan do a great job also, Mila Kunis was perfect in her role as Nina's hot rival, she also did well in giving the movie a more relaxed vibe since so much of the film is focused around Nina's incredibly stiff and serious personality. Vincent Cassell was also cast well in this, his character gives the movie a few needed moments of light comedy, and even though his character can be seen an somewhat inappropriate, he's also very like able.

Black Swan is much more than what the movie trailer for the film makes it out to be. It's a fascinating look into the mind of not only peoples obsession with perfection, but also how much mental instability can affect us if we can't grab a hold of ourselves. Essentially, Black Swan is a 2 hour hallucinatory journey into the mind of a very unwell young woman, while she tries to not only grow up, but also follow her dreams. The movie will really pull you in and shake you up, it stays with you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Greatest Films of ALL TIME! #19

Hellraiser [1987]
Hellbound: Hellraiser II [1988]

Starring: Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman
Directed by: Clive Barker

"What's your pleasure?"

I'm going to do a write up on both Hellraiser 1 and 2, because essentially what we are given is one big movie cut into two chapters. Yes, one could be better than the other when it comes to certain aspects, but essentially, i like them both equally, and feel both movies should be watched one after the other as double feature.

Hellraiser 1 & 2 follows the story of Frank, a man who purchases a strange puzzle box from a street dealer in North Africa. He takes the box back to his home in the U.S. and eventually solves the puzzle. Unfortunately for him, the solving comes at a price, and Frank is immediatly ripped to shreds by chains and falls victim to a group of demonic Gods called, Cenobites, who take his body and soul to another realm, leaving Franks house abandoned.
Soon after these events, Franks brother, his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Kristy, move into

Franks home assuming Frank is still away on his North African trip. Eventually, Franks presence in the hell realm is awoken as he breaks free from his demonic prison, and uses his brothers wife, Julia, to feed him human victims so he can rebuild his body within the physical world once again.
Eventually, Julia, the young daughter, discovers what is happening in their home, and before Frank can use her body to build his strength back, she escapes with the puzzle box in hand. As Julia learns the secrets of the puzzle box, she becomes aquainted with the demonic Cenobites, who offer her a trade: they'll spare her life, if she can give them Franks back. As Julia sets out to put a stop to her flesh hungry Uncle's rampage, she'll soon learn that her mission won't be short lived, or as finished as it may seem once she reaches the end of her journey.

That's as far as i'll go in explaining the basic storyline of Hellraiser. That pretty much covers the first films synopsis, if i go any further, i'll be giving too much away.

Both Hellraiser films are heavily connected with the same characters from movie 1 being crossed over to movie 2. The storyline is also an exact continuation from part 1. There are a few different qualities each film has that help seperate themelves from each other though.
Hellraiser 1 is a much more contained film. Most of the events that occur in the film take place within the confindes of a house, we see little of the outside world, and the horror of what happens to the characters feels almost claustraphobic. In Hellraiser 2, the story breaks free from those sorts of contraints, and really broadens it's horizons. We aren't being held prisoner in a dark house anymore. Not only is the human world expanded on, but so is the Hellraiser universe. We get to see a lot more of what the magic puzzle box is capable of.
Another big change in tone between both films is the different presence of a male and female villain. In movie 1, we see the Hellraiser experience from a male perspective, in part 2, we see it from a females. This doesn't put a major change in how the story is told, essentially both villains aim for the same outcome, but it's interesting seeing how both genders react to powers of the puzzle box.

Although some of the flashier computer visuals in Hellraiser 2 have dated a little, it still holds up enough without ruining the asthetics of the film. Where Hellraiser really shine visually however is in movie 1, mostly around the scene where the main villain comes back to life via a puddle of blood and guts. For a film pushing 30 years old, it's still impressive to see how they went about pulling off his ressurrection so effectivly, especially since it's all done CGI free.
What i love about Hellraiser 1 and 2 is that it doesn't soley depend on horror imagery or gore to sell itself. It actually has an interesting and dark story with a rich histroy behind it. We are also given unique and likeable demon characters with Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites as well. You'll find yourself rooting for the wrong team every so often just because the Cenobites are so cool.
I'm also a big fan of horror fantasy, and Hellraiser 2 really brings that side of the story out with giving the viewer a first hand look at the weird and trippy world within the puzzle box. The flow between both films from the darker smaller introduction of Hellraiser 1 to the more explosive and exciting colourful finale of Hellraiser 2 is a lot of fun to watch.

There have been a lot of sequels within the Hellraiser franchise, some are better than others, but none really have the quality of the first 2 films. Also, you don't need to see the rest of the series to enjoy the first 2 movies, they work perfectly enough as a pair with a contained 2 part story.

Hellraiser 1 and 2 are great for horrors fans because it offers enough gore to satisfy what horror fans are after, while still being original and interesting enough for none horror fans who want a bit more meat with their storylines.