A Movie A Day #259: Take This Job And Shove It (1981, directed by Gus Trikonis)


Originally from a small town in Iowa, Frank Macklin (Robert Hays) is a hotshot young executive with The Ellison Group.  When Frank is assigned to manage and revitalize a failing brewery in his hometown, it is a chance for Frank to rediscover his roots.  His childhood friends (played by actors like David Keith, Tim Thomerson, and Art Carney) may no longer trust him now that Frank wears a tie but it only takes a few monster truck rallies and a football game in a bar for Frank to show that he is still one of them.  However, Frank discovers that the only reason that he was sent to make the brewery profitable was so that his bosses could sell it to a buffoonish millionaire who doesn’t know the first thing about how to run a business.  Will Frank stand by while his bosses screw over the hardworking men and women of the heartland?  Or will he say, “You can take this job and shove it?”

Named after a country music song and taking place almost entirely in places stocked with beer, Take This Job And Shove It is a celebration of all things redneck.  This movie is so redneck in nature that a major subplot involves monster trucks.  Bigfoot, one of the first monster trucks, gets plenty of screen time and, in some advertisements, was given higher billing than Art Carney.

A mix of low comedy and sentimental drama, Take This Job And Shove It is better than it sounds.  In some ways, it is a prescient movie: the working class frustrations and the anger at being forgotten in a “booming economy” is the same anger that, 35 years later, would be on display during the election of 2016.  Take This Job And Shove It also has an interesting and talented cast, most of whom rise above the thinly written dialogue.  Along with Hays, Keith, Thomerson, Bigfoot, and Carney, keep an eye out for: Eddie Albert, Royal Dano, James Karen, Penelope Milford, Virgil Frye, George “Goober” Lindsey, and Barbara Hershey (who, as usual, is a hundred times better than the material she has to work with).

One final note: Martin Mull plays Hays’s corporate rival.  His character is named Dick Ebersol.  Was that meant to be an inside joke at the expense of the real Dick Ebersol, who has the executive producer of Saturday Night Live when Take This Job and Shove It was filmed and who later became the president of NBC Sports?

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A Movie A Day #125: Diamonds (1975, directed by Menahem Golan)


Originally, for today’s entry in Movie A Day, I was hoping to follow up my review of Mad Dog Coll by reviewing Hit The Dutchman.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a review-worthy copy of Hit The Dutchman so, instead, I am going to review another film that was directed by Menahem Golan, Diamonds.

Filmed and set in Golan’s home country of Israel, Diamonds is a heist film.  Richard Roundtree is Archie, an experienced thief who has just been released from prison.  Sally (Barbara Hershey, though she was known as Barbara Seagull when she made this movie) is Archie’s girlfriend.  Robert Shaw plays  Charles Hodgman, the businessman who recruits Roundtree to help him break into a vault located in the Tel Aviv Diamond Exchange Center.  The twist is that the vault was designed by Charles’s twin brother, Earl.  Earl is also played by Robert Shaw and the two of them have an intense sibling rivalry.  If you have ever wanted to see Robert Shaw fight himself in a karate match, Diamonds is the film to see!

(In true Golan fashion, Shaw wears a puffy wig whenever he is supposed to be Earl.)

If he had not died, in 1978, at the tragically young age of 51, Robert Shaw would probably be known as one of our greatest actors.  As it is, he will always be remembered for playing Quint in Jaws and Red Grant in From Russia With Love.  (I am also a fan of his performance in the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.)  Diamonds is typical of the many films in which Shaw was better than what he had to work with.  He gives two good performances but even he is occasionally overshadowed by the swaggering cool and floppy hats of Richard Roundtree.  As for Barbara Seagull/Hershey, she was, as always, beautiful but she had little to do (which was a common problem for her until she rebooted her career with her performance in The Stunt Man).  Shelley Winters is also in this movie, providing tepid comic relief as an American tourist.  (It’s typical of the type of roles in which, following her performance in The Poseidon Adventure, Winters got typecast.)

Barbara Hershey’s beautiful.  Richard Roundtree’s cool.  Robert Shaw is Robert Shaw.  The Israeli location distinguishes it from similar heist films.  The plot may be implausible and the dialogue may be weak but, just as he did with Get Carter, Roy Budd offers up a great score.  Diamonds is typical of many Golan films.  It’s not good but it is damn entertaining.

A Movie A Day #68: Hoosiers (1986, directed by David Anspaugh)


I’m back!

Even though it has only been a week since I last did a movie a day, I feel like I’ve been gone forever.  Thank you to everyone who commented or messaged me while I was gone.  It turned out that I just had a bad sinus infection.  It was painful as Hell but, with the help of antibiotics and the greatest care in the world, I’m recovering.

Last week, I asked if anyone had any suggestions for what the 68th movie a day should be.  Case suggested Hoosiers and so it shall be.

In 1951, Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) arrives in the small Indiana town of Hickory.  He is a former college basketball coach who has been hired to coach the high school’s perennially struggling basketball team.  Emphasizing the fundamentals and demanding discipline from his players, Dale struggles at first with both the team and the townspeople.  When he makes an alcoholic former basketball star named Shooter (Dennis Hopper) an assistant coach, he nearly loses his job.  Eventually, though, the Hickory team starts winning and soon, this small town high school is playing for the state championship against highly favored South Bend High School.

For many people, Hoosiers is not just “a basketball movie.”  Instead, it is the basketball movie, the movie by which all other sport films are judged.  Hoosiers is inspired by a true story.  In 1954, small town Milan High School did defeat Muncie for the Indiana State Championship and they did it by two points.  Otherwise, Hoosiers is heavily fictionalized and manages to include almost every sports film cliché that has ever existed.  How good a coach is Norman Dale, really?  Almost every game that Hickory wins is won by only one basket.

Why, then, is Hoosiers a classic?  Much of it is due to director David Anspaugh’s attention to period and detail.  Some of it is due to Gene Hackman, who gives a tough and unsentimental performance.  Whenever Hoosiers starts to cross the line from sentimental to maudlin, Hackman is there to pull it back to reality with a gruff line delivery.  Even his romance with the one-note anti-basketball teacher (Barbara Hershey) works.  Hickory feels like a real place, with a real history and inhabited by real people.

And then there’s Dennis Hopper.  Along with Blue Velvet, Hoosiers was Hopper’s comeback film.  After spending twenty years lost in the Hollywood wilderness, better known for abusing drugs and shooting guns than acting, Hopper had just come out of rehab when he was offered the role of Shooter.  Amazingly, he turned the role down and told the producers to offer it to his friend, Harry Dean Stanton.

According to Peter L. Winkler’s Dennis Hopper: Portrait of an American Rebel, this is what happened next:

Stanton (who, ironically, was also considered for Hopper’s role in Blue Velvet) called Hopper up and asked, “Aren’t you from Kansas?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t you have a hoop on your barn?”

“Yeah.”

“I think you may be the guy that David Anspaugh’s looking for.”

Harry Dean Stanton was right.  Dennis Hopper, still very much in recovery, totally inhabited the role of the alcoholic Shooter and gave one of the best performances of his often underrated career.  Both Shooter and the actor playing him surprised everyone by doing a good job and Hopper received his only Oscar nomination for acting for his performance in Hoosiers.  (He had previously been nominated for co-writing Easy Rider.)

You don’t have to like basketball to enjoy the Hell out of Hoosiers.

Insomnia File No. 6: Frogs For Snakes (dir by Amos Poe)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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If you were suffering from insomnia last night, at around two a.m., you could have turned over to Flix and watched the 1998 film Frogs For Snakes.

And if you were suffering from insomnia, watching Frogs For Snakes would probably have been a good idea because this film is amazingly dull.  In fact, I am not sure that I have the words to express to you just how tedious Frogs For Snakes truly was.  It may be necessary for me to go back to school and learn how to speak in a dead language in order for me to express the boredom that I felt while watching Frogs For Snakes.

And yes, I realize that I’m talking about an obscure film that was released nearly 20 years ago and it might seem kind of petty to, at this late date, make a big deal about how terrible this film was.

But seriously, Frogs For Snakes was really, really bad.  In fact, it was disturbing to think that a film this bad could have actually been made.  It was even more disturbing to consider that this film was apparently given a theatrical release and, all these years later, still pops up on cable so that it can proudly display its overwhelming mediocrity.

Now, I’m going to tell you what Frogs For Snakes is about and you’re going to think, “That actually sounds like it might be kind of interesting.”  Don’t be fooled!  The film may sound interesting but it’s not.

Frogs for Snakes takes place in a stylized, neo-noir version of New York City.  Eva Santana (Barbara Hershey) is an aging actress who claims to have quit the business, though it’s clear that it’s more a case of the business quitting her.  She talks about leaving New York and raising her son in a better environment.  However, until she gets around to leaving, she’s making ends meet by working as a waitress at a diner owned by the kind-hearted Quint (Ian Hart).  And, of course, when she’s not waitressing, she’s working as a debt collector for her ex-husband, a loan shark named Al Santana (Robbie Coltrane).

That’s right, this actress has a gun and she uses it frequently.  However, because Eva is good at heart, she rarely kills anyone.  Instead, she just shoots them in the foot and tells them to pay back their loans while they lay on the floor and scream in agony.  (All that agonized screaming got pretty old after a while.)

As for Al, he’s not just a loan shark.  He’s a theatrical impressario.  He’s planning on putting on a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo.  He promises his driver a role in American Buffalo on the condition that the driver assassinate Eva’s new boyfriend (John Leguizamo, of course).

Soon, actors all over New York are literally killing to get a role in Al’s play.  Meanwhile, Eva just wants to retire and get out of New York but first, she has to do one last job for Al…

In between all the killing, the characters frequently launch into monologues that have been lifted from other films.  John Leguizamo does a Brando imitation.  Lisa Marie (Tim Burton’s ex, not yours truly) delivers the cuckoo clock speech from The Third Man.  A suggestion for aspiring filmmakers: if you’re going to make a bad film, don’t remind your audience that they could be watching The Third Man instead.

Anyway, the plot sounds interesting but none of the potentially intriguing ideas are explored.  I imagine that the film was meant to be a satire of Off-Broadway ruthlessness but ultimately, the film is just another tediously violent indie film from the 90s.  This is one of those movies where nobody can do anything without spending an excessive amount of time talking about it beforehand and, when things do turn violent, it’s the worst type of quirky, sadistic, drawn-out, “look how crazy we are” violence.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Al shoots a group of people in a bar.  This is intercut with clips from the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin.  As Al leave, he shoots the TV showing Battleship Potemkin and, I have to say, that really annoyed me.  Seriously, just as a bad filmmaker should not remind people that they could be watching The Third Man, he shouldn’t invite them to compare his film to Battleship Potemkin unless he’s willing to back up the comparison.  When Al shot the TV, I found myself hoping that Sergei Eisenstein would pop up and shoot him.

Frogs for Snakes is one of the worst films that I’ve ever seen.  It may, in fact, be the worst but I would need to rewatch Ted 2 before I said that for sure.  But, if you have insomnia, Frogs For Snakes will at least put you to sleep.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice

 

Embracing the Melodrama #24: Last Summer (dir by Frank Perry)


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Let’s close out today’s series of melodrama reviews by taking a look at an unfairly obscure film from 1969, Last Summer.  Directed by Frank Perry (who also directed at least part of The Swimmer before getting into an argument with Burt Lancaster), Last Summer is a film about four teenagers who make the mistake of hanging out with each other during one fateful summer.

Peter (Richard Thomas) and his best friend Dan (Bruce Davison) meet Sandy (Barbara Hershey) on the beach.  Sandy recruits them into helping her take care of a seagull with a broken wing and soon, the three of them are inseparable.  The sexually inexperienced Peter and Dan are both attracted to Sandy while Sandy shown proves herself to have a casually destructive streak.  The two boys are so infatuated with Sandy that they even forgive her after she gets bored with the seagull and kills it.

Eventually, Rhoda (Catherine Burns, who was Oscar-nominated for her performance) starts to hang out with the three of them.  Overweight and shy, Rhoda is, at first, an awkward addition to the group but soon, she and Peter start to grow close.  Sandy, who was previously more interested in Dan until she realized that Peter was losing interest in her, reacts by looking for more and more ways to humiliate the insecure Rhoda.  Eventually, they set Rhoda up on a blind date with a shy Puerto Rican man, a cruel prank which quickly goes wrong.

When Rhoda eventually stands up to her three new “friends,” it leads to a disturbing finale that it is all the more effective specifically because it is so inevitable.

I have to admit that I have a weakness for out-of-control youth films, largely because — while I never went as crazy as Sandy or made as many mistakes as Rhoda — I still had my moments back when I was in high school.  In ways both good and bad, I could relate to the two female leads of Last Summer.  There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like the intellectual and naive Rhoda and then there’s been other times when I’ve felt like the beautiful and self-assured Sandy.  For the most part, I’m usually prouder of myself when I feel like Rhoda but I have a lot more fun when I feel like Sandy.  While the two boys largely remain ciphers, Last Summer is worth seeing for the outstanding performances of Barbara Hershey and Catherine Burns.  Combined with Frank Perry’s atmospheric direction (you can literally see the layers of ennui and humidity clinging to some of the scenes), the end result is an effectively creepy coming-of-age film.

For some unknown reason, Last Summer appears to one of those rare Oscar-nominated films that has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray.  However, it does occasionally show up on TCM and I would suggest keeping an eye out for it.

Last Summer 1969 Thomas Hershey Davidson

(Incidentally, California Scheming — was was released earlier this year — is pretty much an unacknowledged remake of Last Summer, right down to the bit with the seagull.  California Scheming is actually not a bad film.  It’s certainly deserves better than some of the online reviews that it’s received.)

 

Review: Black Swan (dir. by Darren Aronofsky)


(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

The final 15 minutes or so of Black Swan are so intense and exhilarating that, after I watched them, I ended up having an asthma attack.  The movie literally left me breathless.

I saw this movie last Saturday at the Plano Angelika and I’ve been trying to figure out just how exactly to put into words my feelings about this movie.  Why is it so much easier to talk about movies we hate than the movies we love?  Perhaps it’s because we all know what a bad movie looks like but a great movie is something unique and beautiful.  I fear that any review I write it going to cheapen this experience.

However, I’m going to try.  And if my words can’t convince you then just see the movie yourself.  You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.  As with all great works of art, there is no middle ground.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any way for me to talk about this film without talking about a few key plot points that could be considered spoilers.  So, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, read on with caution.

This year, there’s been two types of filmgoers.  There’s been those who have spent 2010 waiting for The Social Network and then there are people like me who have been waiting for Black Swan.  There’s a lot of reasons why I had been so looking forward to seeing this movie.  First off, it’s directed by Darren Aronofsky, one of my favorite directors.  Requiem for a Dream is a personal favorite of mine and I thought The Wrestler was one of the best films of 2008.  Secondly, the movie stars Natalie Portman, a great actress who rarely ever seems to get parts worthy of her talent. 

However, the main reason was a personal one.  Black Swan takes place in the world of ballet and, for several years, ballet was literally my life.  My family used to move around a lot but whether we were living in Ardmore, Oklahoma or Carlsbad, New Mexico or Dallas, Texas, ballet always remained my constant.  Every town we ended up in, my mom tracked down the closest dance studio and enrolled me.  I’ve loved all types of dance (and still do) but ballet is what truly captured my heart.  It provided structure for my otherwise chaotic life.  Ballet was something that I knew not everyone could do and when I danced, I felt special.  I felt like I was something more than just an asthmatic girl with a big nose and a country accent.  I felt beautiful and strong and special.  When I danced, I felt alive.

As much as I dreamed of being a prima ballerina, I always knew that I wasn’t really that good at it.  I’ve always danced with more enthusiasm than technique and, if forced to choose between perfect execution and just having fun, I almost always chose to have fun.  My body also conspired me against me as I’ve been a D-cup since I was 14 and while boobs don’t necessarily make ballet impossible, they don’t exactly help.  Of course, my main problem was that I was (and still am) a klutz.  When I was 17 years old, I tripped, fell down a flight of stairs, and broke my ankle in two places.  And so ended my ballet career.

To a certain extent, falling down those stairs is the best thing that ever happened to me because it forced me to explore a life outside of the idealized fantasy of ballet.  It forced me to consider ambitions that don’t necessarily have to end the minute one turns 30.  It allowed me to realize how much I love to write and how much I love to watch movies.  Still, I do miss ballet.  While I still love to dance, it’s just doesn’t feel the same.  I still have fun but it no longer makes me feel special. 

I guess I was hoping that Black Swan would remind me of that feeling that I had lost.  And it did.

But enough about me.  Let’s talk about Black Swan.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a veteran ballerina who, despite being young enough to still live with her mother (and, it’s hinted, to still be a virgin), is also approaching the age when she’ll be considered too old to ever be a prima ballerina.  She is a member of a struggling New York dance company that is run by Thomas (Vincent Cassel, turning up the sleaze level to 11).  Thomas has decided that the company’s next show will be Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and that it’s time to replace the company’s prima ballerina, Beth (played by Winona Ryder), with a younger dancer.  Nina begs for the chance to be Beth’s replacement but Thomas rejects her, claiming that her dancing is technically perfect but has no passion.  He then attempts to kiss her which leads to Beth biting his lip and, apparently, convincing him that she has passion after all.  Thomas soon announces that Nina will dance the lead in Swan Lake.

Unfortunately, even before winning the role, Nina is obviously unstable.  Whether she’s obsessively stretching in her hideously pink bedroom, forcing herself to vomit up the contents of her stomach, or seeing shadows down every corridor, Nina’s every action and thought seems to be obsessed with finding the idealized perfection that ballet demands and life seldom affords.  No matter how much she and her controlling mother (Barbara Hershey) cut her nails, she still wakes up with mysterious scratch marks across her back.  Even worse, as she gets deeper and deeper into the role, she finds herself strangely drawn to and fearful of Lilly (Mila Kunis), a younger, free-spirited dancer who may, or may not, have her eye on taking Nina’s place.

Along with being an homage to such classic films as Repulsion, Suspiria, and All About Eve, Black Swan is also a modern-day reinterpretation of Swan Lake.  Swan Lake tells the story of Odette, a princess who has been cursed by an evil sorcerer.   As a result of the curse, Odette is only allowed her human form at night.  During the day, she exists only in the form of a white swan.  A prince named Siegfried meets Odette in her human form and falls in love with her so Rothbart tricks the prince by transforming his own daughter, Odile, into the Black Swan, a seductress who looks just like Odette except she wears black.  One reason why the lead role in Swan Lake is so coveted is because the same ballerina plays both the innocent and fragile White Swan and the seductive and uninhibited Black Swan.  As such, the two roles are presented as opposite sides of the same coin.  (I’ve always thought of the White Swan as representing what men idolize and the black swan representing what men actually desire.)  The challenge is to be convincing in both roles while still perfectly executing the idealized movements of ballet.

Over the course of Black Swan, Nina is continually told (by Thomas) that she is perfect for the role of the innocent and sheltered White Swan but that she doesn’t have what it takes to be the sexy and uninhibited Black Swan.  At one point, Thomas gives her a homework assignment for the role, ordering her to go home and touch herself.  (Nina eventually does so just to suddenly realize, right when she’s on the verge of bringing herself to climax, that her mother is sleeping in the exact same room.  This sudden shot of Barbara Hershey sleeping in that chair both made me jump and laugh at the same time.)

Thomas also suggests that Nina study that way that Lilly dances.  In many ways, Lilly appears to be the exact opposite of Nina.  (Though wisely, Aronofsky emphasizes how much Portman and Kunis — not to mention Ryder and Hershey — all resemble each other physically, therefore creating the feeling that we’re seeing four different versions of the same basic human being.)  Whereas Nina’s every dance move appears to be the product of rigorous training, Lilly dancing follows her emotions.  While Nina’s expression while dancing is always one of a grimly obsessive dedication, Lilly smiles and enjoys the moment.  Whereas Nina is scared of sex and can barely bring herself to look a man in the eye, Lilly is openly flirtatious with both men and women.  In short, Lilly is Nina’s Black Swan. 

Even as Nina studies Lilly, Lilly starts to pursue Nina, even showing up at her apartment and inviting Nina out for a night on the town.  Desperate to escape her controlling mother (whose goal seems to be to keep Nina as the innocent White Swan for the rest of her life), Nina goes out with Lilly.  They hit the clubs, Lilly convinces Nina to drink a spiked drink, and soon Nina is making out with random men in corners and eventually with Lilly in a taxi cab.

Now, I know this is something that a lot of people are wondering about so I’ll just confirm it.  Yes, Mila Kunis does go down on Natalie Portman in this film.  And yes, it’s hot.  But even more importantly, it works as something more than just a juvenile male fantasy of what we girls do when you guys aren’t around.  When Nina touches Lilly, she is reaching out for and accepting the side of her personality that she’s previously tried to deny.  She’s accepting what she knows could destroy her.

(SPOILERS BELOW READ CAREFULLY)

And sure enough, after her encounter with Lilly (which Lilly subsequently claims never happened), Nina’s world grows more and more distorted.  She looks at the paintings that line her mother’s room and she sees a hundred faces laughing at her.  On the subway, men leer at her.  And suddenly, Thomas seems to be paying more attention to Lilly (who is named as her alternate) than to her.  Lilly visits Beth in the hospital where Beth is recovering from a car accident.  Beth responds to Lilly’s presence by mutilating herself with a fingernail file.  And so things go until the film reaches its climax in a dizzying mix of dance and blood.

Much like ballet itself, Black Swan presents a very stylized view of existence and, in order for the film to work, the performances have to be perfect.  I’m happy to say that everything you’ve heard about Natalie Portman in this film is correct.  She gives a brilliant performance.  The film doesn’t provide a definite explanation as to what lies at the root of Nina’s mental instability but the clues are all there in Portman’s subtle but effective performance.  Perhaps even more importantly, Portman is convincing in the ballet sequences.  She captures perfectly the rigorous and often times painful dedication that ballet demands.  In the movie’s finale, as she dances on stage while her fragile world collapse around her, she was suddenly creating my own fantasy of what it would be like to be a true prima ballerina.  Watching her, I felt her every move as if I was on the stage dancing the role.  It left me exhausted and breathless and I have to admit that after the movie, I foundd myself crying for a solid hour as I realized that would truly be as close as I would ever get to living my old teenage fantasy.

Portman pretty much dominates the entire film but still leaves room for Hershey, Cassell, and especially Mila Kunis to give impressive performances.  Alternatively loving and spiteful, Hershey is the stage mother from Hell.  Cassell’s character is almost too sleazy for his own good but Cassell still has fun with the role and even adds a few notes of ambiguity.  However, Mila Kunis is the true standout among the supporting players.  Playing a role that requires her to be both likable and vaguely threatening, Kunis holds her own with Portman and proves here that she actually can act.  Her character also provides the film with a few much-needed moments of humor.  Lilly gets all the best one-liners and Kunis delivers them flawlessly.

So, I’m sure many people might be saying at this point, “That’s great that you loved it, Lisa Marie.  But you’re like all convinced that this film is actually about you.  What about us normal people who don’t really care about ballet?  Is there anything here for us?”

That’s not an easy question for me to answer precisely because I do love ballet and I did relate a lot of this film to experiences — both good and bad — from my own life.  It’s also an issue that Aronofsky acknowledges in a rather clever scene where Nina and Lilly flirt with two frat boy types who react to Nina’s talk of ballet with boredom.  However, I do think that this film can be seen and appreciated by those who aren’t into ballet for the exact same reason why I loved The Wrestler despite being interested in professional wrestling like not at all.

I’ve always felt that ballet — and by that, I mean the whole experience of both the dancing and all the stuff that goes on before and after the actual dance — was in many ways the perfect metaphor for life. 

For instance, in my experience, there were always two separate cliques in any dance school or company. 

There was the group of dancers who had spent their entire lives preparing for the one moment they would become a prima ballerina.  These were the girls who spent hours obsessing over their technique and who minutely examined every performance for the least little flaw.  These were the girls who risked their health to maintain perfect dancer bodies.  They obsessed over everything they ate, which struck me as strange since they usually just threw it all back up a few minutes later anyway.  They had parents who not only spent the money to make them the best but who, unlike the rest of us, actually had the money to spend in the first place.  These were the girls who knew every move they were supposed to make but they never knew why.

And then, there was the group that I was always a part of.  We were the girls who never worried about perfect technique.  We would laugh when we missed a step and we joked about our mistakes.  When we danced, we followed our emotions and if that meant breaking a rule, so be it.  The perfect girls hated us because, for the most part, we were more popular than they were because we allowed ourselves to be real as opposed to perfect.  And we hated the perfect girls because we knew that they would eventually have the life that we fantasized about. 

I used to think that was unique to ballet and certainly, in Black Swan, it’s clear that Portman would be one of the perfect girls and Kunis would be one of us.  However, once my life was no longer solely about ballet, I realized that everyone was either a part of the perfect group or a part of the real group.  It wasn’t just ballet.  It was life, the conflict between those who try to create an idealized fantasy and those who simply take advantage of the randomness of everyday life.  And, when I watched Black Swan, it was obvious that Aronofsky recognizes this as well.

Ballet is all about creating perfection, of telling a story through exactly choreographed movements.  As the film progresses, it become obvious that the root of Nina’s psychosis is that the reality has not lived up to her idealized worldview.  Nina hides from the real world because the real world, unlike ballet, is not messy.  Movement in ballet is controlled but movement in reality is random and often frightening.  However, by submerging her identity into ballet, Nina has fallen into another trap because, as a prima ballerina, her every movement has to be perfect.  There’s no room for error.  There’s no room for her to break free of Thomas’s choreography.  Her every move has been dictated for her and not a single mistake can be tolerated. 

And I guess that’s truly why this film got to me because who hasn’t felt like that?  Who hasn’t felt as if the world is watching and waiting to pounce on you for failing to live up to their ideal?  While I’m not suggesting that men don’t face unique pressures of their own, this theme especially hit home for me as a woman.  Everyday, I wake up knowing that I’m being expected to live up to some sort of societal concept of perfection that was set up long before I was born by people I’ll never actually meet.  Every day, I wake up knowing that I’m always look my best without flaunting it in a way that would suggest that I know I look my best, to find a husband and devote my life to the agonizing pain of childbirth, to suffer my period in respectful silence, to always be weak when I want to be strong, and certainly to never, ever view sex as anything other than a duty.  It’s the type of expectation that leads every woman to consider embracing her own black swan.  Some of us are brave enough to do it.  And others, scared of being rejected as imperfect, simply try to pretend that they never saw it in the first place.

For me, that’s what Black Swan is truly about.  It’s not about ballet and it’s not about Mila Kunis bringing Natalie Portman to orgasm.  It’s about finding the courage to live life regardless of how scary it might be.  Much as Aronofsky used pro wrestling to tell the story of everyone who ever refused to be anonymous and forgotten, Black Swan is the story of every one who ever struggled to reconcile the demands of society with the realities of existence.

Since this is an Aronofsky film, viewers will either love it or hate it.  As exhilarating as I found that film’s finale to be, I can already hear other viewers saying, “What!?”  As a director, Aronofsky has always been willing to walk that thin line between art and excess and you’re reaction to him will probably depend a lot on where you personally draw that line.  Throughout the film, Aronofsky comes close to going over the top.  However, he also directs the film in such a way as to make it clear that we’re not meant to be watching an exact recreation of reality.  Instead, we view most of the film’s events through the prism of Nina’s own unstable mind and both the film’s grainy cinematography and the deliberately odd camera angles perfectly capture the feel of a mind losing its grip on reality. 

Again, I should admit that I’m bipolar and, as such, I reacted very sympathetically to Nina’s struggle to distinguish the real world from the world created by her own paranoid fears because I recognized much of it from my last major manic episode.  Now, would I have had a different reaction if not for my own personal experiences?  The honest answer is that I don’t know.  All I know is that Darren Aronofsky gets it right. 

The film’s ending will surely be the root of not a little controversy.  (Again: MAJOR SPOILER WARNING)  Much like the end of the The Wrestler we’re left to wonder whether our main character has truly triumphed or if she’s been defeated.  Is Aronofsky celebrating self-destruction or is he celebrating the individualistic impulse that leads people to pursue their passions no matter what the end result?  Has Nina found true perfection and freedom or has she been destroyed by her own demons?

Aronofsky leaves it up to the viewer to decide and a lot of people won’t like that. 

However, for me, Black Swan is the best film of 2010.

 

Black Swan Teaser Trailer (dir. Darren Aronofsky)


The first official trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s next film has been released.

Black Swan stars Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder. It’s a psychological thriller based on the script by Mark Heyman and sets the film in the competitive world of ballet. The film will have its premiere at the 67th Venice Film Festival this coming September 2010 with another screening soon after in the same month at the 35th Toronto International Film Festival. The film will open to limited release in early December to qualify it for the award season for 2010.

The trailer definitely has been getting much buzz since it’s release on August 17th, 2010. Some have called it Fight Club for women just from the series of clips and images which made up the teaser trailer. While I won’t say that these individuals are right or wrong, to try and determine what the film is about in just a 2-minute trailer is idiotic. The film definitely plays on the psychological aspect of the story with Natalie Portman’s character the main focus of all the happenings going on around her.

Ms. Portman’s career should get another boost from this role as she continues to move away from her half a decade spent on the Star Wars universe. She has definitely made a concerted effort to pick roles as diverse as possible to avoid being typecase in any one particular role. Already an Oscar nominee for her work in Closer there’s a good chance that she may get another for her work on Black Swan. We will see if the buzz on that rumor will have weight come September 2010 when the film premieres n the Fall Film Festival season.