Film Review: Boot Camp (dir by Christian Duguay)


Occasionally, if you’re lucky, you come across a film that so totally and completely conforms to your own worldview that you’re forced to wonder if maybe you wrote the script and then somehow forgot about it.

That was certainly the case, for me, when I recently watched 2008’s Boot Camp, a teen melodrama with an anti-authoritarian subtext.  Check out the trailer:

In Boot Camp, Mila Kunis plays Sophie.  Sophie is rich and, in the eyes of her parents, out of control.  She talks back.  She sneaks out of the house.  She hangs out at all the wrong clubs and with all the wrong people.  You know the story.  We’ve all seen the talk shows.  Sophie’s parents are convinced that the only way that they can get Sophie under control is to exile her to what the film calls a “tough love boot camp.”

The boot camp is located on an island, just a few miles away from a luxurious resort.  From the minute Sophie arrives, she is told that escape is impossible and she can only leave after the facility’s founder, Dr. Arthur Hall (Peter Stomare), says that she can.  Some people have been at the camp for years, waiting for Dr. Hall to announce that they’re rehabilitated.

The rest of the film follows Sophie and several other inmates as they try to survive boot camp without surrendering their free will.  It’s not easy.  Though he is more than happy to take their money, Dr. Hall resents the parents and his program is mostly designed to brainwash the inmates into thinking of him as being their new father figure.  The camp is staffed with brutes, sadists, and rapists.  When one inmate drowns, the staff tries to cover up his death.  Eventually, like the inhabitants of the Island of Dr. Moreau, Sophie and the other inmates have no choice but to rise up in rebellion against their masters.

“Tough love boot camps” are a real thing.  They used to be hugely popular with daytime talk show audiences and I know that Dr. Phil still has a ranch to which he sends “out of control” teens.  (I put “out of control” in quotes because, often times, it seems that “out of control” is code for “thinking for yourself.”)  The idea is that rebellious teenagers are sent to the camp, where they get yelled at until they agree to stop being so rebellious.  Over the years, there’s been a lot of debate over whether boot camps actually work.  If I had been sent to a boot camp, I think I would have just lied about my feelings and put on a repentant good girl act just to get the yelling to stop.  I’d be perfectly humble and contrite for three months and then, as soon as I got out of the camp, I’d go back to sneaking out of the house, skipping school, shoplifting, doing drugs, and whatever else got me sent to the camp in the first place.  From what I’ve seen of the whole boot camp experience, it seems to be more about brainwashing than anything else.  What’s the point of having well-behaved children if they can’t think for themselves?

But, then again, boot camps have never really been about  helping the teenagers sent to them.  Instead, they’ve always been about making lousy parents feel better about themselves.  Parents who have spent the last 14 years totally fucking up their children get to pat themselves on the back because they sent their kids to boot camp.  Other adults, bitter over having lost their youth, get to say, “It’s time to teach those ungrateful children to respect authority.”  As for the people who run the boot camps, it’s less about the inmates and more about power and money.

That’s certainly the message of Boot Camp.  In fact, I was taken by surprise to discover just how much Boot Camp conformed to my own thinking on … well, on just about everything.  Make no mistake, Boot Camp is a flawed film.  There’s nothing subtle about Christian Duguay’s direction and, with the exception of Mila Kunis, none of the performances are as memorable as you might hope that they would be.  Peter Stomare is way too obvious in his villainy, giving a performance that belongs in the Overacting Hall Of Fame.  (You’ll find Stomare’s Dr. Hall in the villain wing, right next to Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE.)

But, even with all that in mind, it was impossible for me not to get excited when Sophie and her fellow out-of-control teens finally made their move against their tormentors.  The final third of Boot Camp turns into a celebration of disobedience and rebellion and it was impossible for me not to be thrilled by it.  Considering the increasingly Orwellian nature of American culture, we need more movies that celebrate revolution and individual freedom.  At a time when we’re being told that we “have to do this” or “have to do that,” Boot Camp says, “Nobody has to do anything, beyond what they choose.”

It’s an important message and one that people need to start heeding.

 

Here Are the Reliably Boring Razzie Nominations!


Yawn!  The Razzies are always so boring!  Here are this year’s predictable nominations.  Talk about them on twitter and impress your friends.

Worst Picture
Fantastic Four
Fifty Shades of Grey
Jupiter Ascending
Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Pixels

Worst Director
Andy Fickman, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Tom Six, Human Centipede 3
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Josh Trank, Fantastic Four
Andy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Actor
Johnny Depp, Mortdecai
Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey
Kevin James, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Adam Sandler, The Cobbler and Pixels
Channing Tatum, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Actress
Katherine Heigl, Home Sweet Hell
Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Mila Kunis, Jupiter Ascending
Jennifer Lopez, The Boy Next Door
Gwyneth Paltrow, Mortdecai

Worst Supporting Actor
Chevy Chase, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Vacation
Josh Gad, Pixels and The Wedding Ringer
Kevin James, Pixels
Jason Lee, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip
Eddie Redmayne, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Supporting Actress
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Wedding Ringer
Rooney Mara, Pan
Michelle Monaghan, Pixels
Julianne Moore, Seventh Son
Amanda Seyfried, Love the Coopers and Pan

Worst Screenplay
Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank, Fantastic Four
Kelly Marcel, Fifty Shades of Grey
Andy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
Kevin James and Nick Bakay, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, Pixels

Worst Remake or Sequel
Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Fantastic Four
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Human Centipede 3
Paul Blart Mall Cop 2

Worst Screen Combo
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell, Fantastic Four
Johnny Depp and his glued-on mustache, Mortdecai
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Kevin James and either his Segway or glued-on mustache, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Adam Sandler and any pair of shoes, The Cobbler

Razzies Redeemer Award
Elizabeth Banks
M. Night Shyamalan
Will Smith
Sylvester Stallone

Film Review: Blood Ties (dir by Guillame Canet)


So, there’s this fucking movie called Blood Ties and it’s about a lot of fucking guys who live in fucking New York City in the fucking 70s and they’re all kind of a bunch of fuck-ups but they all know how to fucking use the word fuck as both an adjective and an adverb.  That’s the main impression that I took away from Blood Ties, a film that feels a lot like a mash-up of Place Beyond The Pines and every Martin Scorsese film ever made.

The year is 1974.  After serving several years on a murder conviction, 50 year-old Chris (Clive Owen) has been released from prison.  Chris’s transition back into society is a bumpy one.  For one thing, his ex-girlfriend (Marion Cotillard) is now a prostitute and refuses to let Chris see his children.  Though he gets a new girlfriend (Mila Kunis), he still finds himself struggling to hold down a job and he soon finds himself tempted to once again pursue a life of crime.

What might make that difficult for him is the fact that his younger brother, Frank (Billy Crudup), is now a cop with an old school porn star mustache.  Frank makes little secret of how much he resents his older brother and it isn’t long before the two of them are constantly fighting.  However, Frank has problems beyond Chris.  For one thing, he’s romantically pursuing Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), despite the fact that he earlier put her husband, Anthony (Matthias Schoenaerts), in prison.

In order to keep their dying father (James Caan) happy, Chris and Frank try to put aside their differences.  However, when Frank sees Chris fleeing from the scene of a robbery, it becomes harder and harder for him to ignore his brother’s activities.  Meanwhile, Chris has to decide whether or not to potentially sacrifice his freedom to keep his brother safe from a vengeful Anthony…

When Blood Ties was originally released at the beginning of the year, I considered seeing it but — for some reason — I ended up seeing The Legend of Hercules instead.  (Don’t you hate it when that happens!)  And I have to admit that I had forgotten about Blood Ties until I discovered that we were getting EPIX for free this holiday weekend.  Blood Ties is one of the films that’s currently showing on EPIX and, when I saw it was available, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to see A Most Violent Year but until that opens up down here in Dallas, why not watch another violent New York period piece?”

And so I watched Blood Ties and … well, bleh.  Actually, bleh may be too harsh of a judgment.  The film is full of fun period details and Billy Crudup gives a really good performance as Frank.  There are some well done action scenes and I appreciated the fact that, for the most part, the film did not try to make violence look glamorous or fun.  The film has a great soundtrack though, for the most part, most of the songs here can also be heard in a countless number of superior Scorsese films.

But, ultimately, Blood Ties is never as good as you want it to be.  The film’s plot is about as predictable as can be and, far too often, scenes that start out interesting quickly degenerate to various characters standing around and yelling at each other.  And while that may often be what happens in real life, it still doesn’t make it particularly interesting to watch.  And then you’ve got poor Clive Owen, a good actor who is seriously miscast here.  Casting Clive Owen as a streetwise New York gangster is a bit like casting Ray Liotta as a member of the Queen’s Guard.  It just doesn’t work.

For those of us hoping for a great New York City crime epic — well, we’re just going to have to keep hoping that A Most Violent Year turns out to be just as good as everyone says it is…

Blood_Ties_poster

 

Horror On TV: That 70s Show 2.5 “Halloween”


Okay, so technically, this really isn’t horror.  But who cares?  It deals with Halloween traditions and, even more importantly,  I loved That 70s Show.

This episode was originally broadcast on October 26th, 1999.

Trailer: Jupiter Ascending


jupiter1

The Wachowskis, Andy and Lana, have a new film set for release in early 2015. Jupiter Ascending was suppose to come out in 2014, but things happened and now it’s been pushed back for a February 2015 release.

Such a drastic delay in release usually means something major on the negative side of the ledger has occurred and the studio in charge of it’s release have little to no faith in the film. Has Warner Bros. Studios lost faith in the latest Wachowski offering? Is Jupiter Ascending the hot mess that it has been rumored about? Is the grandiose space opera the film is being made out to be making studio exec’s nervous?

So, many questions that most people who like to dwell on the in’s and out’s of filmmaking and the business of making them are probably asking themselves.

My only concern is that the Wachowskis have taken the extra time to make the film they set out to make. They’re one of the few filmmakers who seem to always get to do the sort of dream projects that more successful directors rarely get a chance to or even attempt to try. Whether it’s The Matrix, Speed Racer or Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis have danced to their own tune and for some reason Warner Bros. continue to give them big-budgets after big-budgets to get their next dream project made into reality.

Here’s to hoping Guardians of the Galaxy being such a huge success will help this upcoming space opera turn it’s February release (usually a place where films go to die) into a new addition to the resurgence of the space opera.

Trailer: Oz the Great and Powerful (Super Bowl Exclusive)


OzTheGreatandPowerful

Oz the Great and Powerful is the first film by Sam Raimi since he was removed as director of the Spider-Man franchise. While he tried to go back to his horror roots with the underappreciated Drag Me to Hell he’s back to doing big-budget event films.

The film looks to tell the story of the Great Wizard of Oz prior to Dorothy’s arrival in the original film. James Franco takes on the title role with Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz all taking on the roles of the three witches of Oz. The film’s plot looks to be a sort of hero’s journey as Oscar Diggs must discover his true self once he lands in the otherworldly realm of Oz.

Could this film be a return to fantasy form for Sam Raimi or will it be a film thats visually stunning but spiritually empty like Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland?

Only time will tell and while Raimi always delivers a visual treat and an entertaining film they sometimes don’t resonate with the general audience.

Oz the Great and Powerful is set for a March 8, 2013 release date.

6 Films That Are Not The Dark Knight Rises: The Girl From Naked Eye, Magic Mike, Rock of Ages, Ted, 21 Jump Street, and Underworld: Awakening


Right now, everyone seems to be heading out to see The Dark Knight Rises for the first, second, or hundredth time.  By my own personal count, the  various writers here at The Shattered Lens have seen the film a combined total of 12 times since it opened on Friday.  (Myself, I’ll be seeing it on Tuesday.)

But what if you don’t want to see The Dark Knight Rises this week?  What if you just don’t want to deal with the big crowds?  Maybe you want to wait a few months so that you can see it for a dollar.  Or maybe,  you showed up at the theater and discovered that the showing was sold out or perhaps you’re just not into the whole Batman thing.  What then?  Well, believe it or not, there are other movies out there and below, you can find 6 reviews of films that came out this year but are not The Dark Knight Rises.  Some of them are worth seeing and some of them definitely are not.  But all six of them are alternatives for those of you who want to see a movie but, for whatever reason, don’t want to see The Dark Knight Rises.

(Even better, they’re six films that I saw earlier this year but, until now, still hadn’t gotten around to reviewing.)

1) The Girl From Naked Eye (dir by David Ren)

Jake (Jason Yee) is the driver for a sleazy escort service that’s headquartered out of a strip club called Naked Face.  Jake ends up falling in love with Sandy (Samantha Streets), an escort who writes poetry in her spare time.  (Yes, one of those…)  When Sandy is murdered, Jake goes on a violent search for her murderer.

The Girl From Naked Eye is a pretty uneven and rather predictable film but I actually enjoyed it.  It’s obvious that director David Ren is a fan of the same old film noirs that I love and, at its best, Girl From Naked Eye is a loving tribute to those films.  Streets is likable as the ill-fated Sandy and Gary Stretch brings some unexpected depth to his villainous role.  Perhaps best of all, Girl From Naked Eye is only 80 minutes long.  Sometimes, you just don’t need that extra 30 minutes to tell your story.

The Girl From Naked Eye is very much an independent film so it might be playing near you or it might not.

2) Magic Mike (dir. by Stephen Soderbergh)

After me and my BFF Evelyn saw Magic Mike, I hopped on twitter and I tweeted, “Memo to single guys.  Go hang out around the theater when Magic Mike gets out.  You will get laid!”  Yes, Magic Mike is that type of film…

“Magic” Mike (played by Channing Tatum) is the most popular attraction at Xquisite, a male strip club that’s run by Dallas (a wonderfully sleazy performance from Matthew McConaughey).  Mike ends up serving as a mentor for Adam (Alex Pettyfer) while pursuing Adam’s disapproving sister (Cody Horn) and saving up his money so that he can start his own business.  However, the life proves a lot more difficult for him to leave then he originally thought…

There’s actually a lot of plot in Magic Mike but, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  The film knows that we’re all here to watch Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Joe Manganiello shake everything that they’ve got and the film does not disappoint.  Director Steven Soderbergh’s directs in such a way that the film’s dance numbers are both exciting and, at the same time, distancing.  By taking a rather documentary approach to otherwise salacious material, Soderbergh reminds us that, ultimately, Tatum is just doing a job and fulfilling the requirements of fantasy as opposed to reality.

When Christy Lemire of the Associates Press gave a less than positive review to The Dark Knight Rises, all of the fanboys on Rotten Tomatoes became obsessed with the fact that she had previously given a positive review to Magic Mike.  Many of them left comments complaining that the only reason Lemire enjoyed Magic Mike was because it featured naked men.  While all one has to do is read Lemire’s review to see that’s not the case, so what if it was?  Films have been objectifying women for over a century.  What’s wrong with a little fair play?

Magic Mike is still in theaters.

 3) Rock of Ages (dir. by Adam Shankman)

In this adaptation of the hit Broadway show, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is an innocent girl from Oklahoma who dreams of finding super stardom in Los Angeles.  She gets a job working as a waitress at an incredibly filthy-looking club run by Alec Baldwin and she also gets a boyfriend (played by Diego Boneta) who is an aspiring musician himself.  Everything’s great except for the fact that the mayor’s puritanical wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) hates rock and roll and wants to close the club down.  Luckily, alcoholic rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is willing to help out.  Did I mention that Russell Brand is in this film as well?  Because, he like totally is…

Rock of Ages gives you a chance to watch your favorite actors and actresses shake it to some of the least danceable music ever written and it’s just about as bad you might expect.  Between the vanilla performances of Hough and Boneta and the film’s rampant sexism (every female in the film is either a shrew or a whore and apparently, the only thing that can redeem them is allowing Tom Cruise to drunkenly cop a feel), Rock of Ages is a combination of the forgettable and stuff that you wish you could forget.  For a director who specializes in musicals, Shankman seems strangely lost here and the majority of the big numbers feel lifeless.  The one bright spot is Mary J. Blige who shows up in a minor role and quickly reminds everyone what singing is all about.

Rock of Ages opened with a lot of hype but that hype didn’t translate into box office success.  You can probably still catch it at the dollar theater but you might want your money back afterward.

4) Ted (directed by Seth MacFarlane)

Ted tells the story of a lonely 8 year-old boy who, one night, wishes that his beloved teddy bear Ted might come to life.  Well, Ted does come to life and ends up proving to the world that magic does exist.  Briefly, Ted and his owner are celebrities but soon, Ted’s fame fades and, 28 years later, Ted (voiced by director Seth MacFarlane) and his owner (now played by Mark Wahlberg) are slackers who spend their time smoking weed, watching TV, and obsessing over pop culture. (At times, it almost felt as if the film was a documentary about life here at the TSL Bunker.)  However, Wahlberg’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis) feels that Ted is holding him back and eventually, Wahlberg is forced to make a choice between childhood friendship and adult love.

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Seth MacFarlane’s.  I hate the Family Guy and I’ve never gotten through more than 2 minutes of The Cleveland Show.  However, I also have to admit that I enjoyed Ted for what it was.  It’s a massively uneven film that pretty much tells the same joke over and over again but that joke (i.e. a cute toy saying or doing something incredibly crude) turns out to be surprisingly resilient.  For their part, Wahlberg and Kunis are a likable couple and Kunis does a good job generating some much-needed sympathy for her thinly drawn character.  Add to that, Joel McHale is in this film and how can I not enjoy a film that features Joel McHale?

Ted is still playing at a theater near you.

5) 21 Jump Street (dir. by Phil Lord and Chris Miller)

Morton (Jonah Hill) and Greg (Channing Tatum) have been unlikely friends since high school.  Greg was a jock and bully while Morton was a guy who looked and acted a lot like Jonah Hill.  When Greg and Morton graduate high school, they both enter the police academy together and, upon getting out of the academy, they find themselves assigned to hazardous duty like patrolling the local park.  However, it turns out that there’s a new designer drug out there and Hill and Tatum are both sent back to high school.  Only now, they’re working under cover…

21 Jump Street was a real surprise when it came out earlier this year, a laugh-out-loud comedy that managed to both satirize and celebrate the conventions of the American cop film.  Hill and Tatum had a lot of chemistry together and there was something oddly touching about watching Hill return to high school and discover that he was now considered the cool guy while Tatum was now the outsider.  21 Jump Street has kinda gotten forgotten in all the hype surrounding The Avengers and the Dark Knight Rises but ultimately, 21 Jump Street can stand with those two films as proof that occasionally a big-budget studio production can turn out to actually be a good film.

(Plus, James Franco’s look-alike brother, Dave Franco, is in it!)

21 Jump Street is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray but it’s also still playing at a few dollar theaters across the country.

6) Underworld: Awakening (dir by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein)

Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is back and this time, she’s searching for Michael, who has gone missing.  The plot doesn’t make much sense and the film has one of the most disappointing endings ever but it does provide the viewers with everything that they’ve come to expect from an Underworld film (with the exception of Scott Speedman, who does not return to the role of Michael in this film).

Underworld: Awakening opened at the beginning of the year, got terrible reviews, and made a decent enough amount of money that there will probably be yet another installment in the series come 2014.  That said, Underworld: Awakening is probably the most vapid of all of the Underworld films (and that’s saying something) and, following the releases of both The Avengers and the Dark Knight Rises, it looks like even more of an empty exercise in CGI and action than it did when it was originally released.  That said, this film does star my girl crush, Kate Beckinsale, and, after watching her in this film, I spent a few hours looking for monsters to fight.  I will always recommend any film that features a women kicking ass and that’s about the only reason I have to recommend Underworld: Awakening.

Underworld: Awakening is currently available on both DVD and Blu-Ray.

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The 83rd Annual Academy Awards


Last night, I watched the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

Why Was I Watching It?

Why was I watching it?  I was watching it because I love awards shows.  I love them in all of their tacky, silly glory.  I was watching for the clothes, the celebrity meltdowns, and the infamous acceptance speeches.  I was watching because James Franco is hot and Anne Hathaway is adorable.  I was watching because I loved Black Swan and I was only mildly impressed with the Social Network.  I was watching because, as a film lover, my year starts and ends with the Oscar ceremony.  You boys have got your super bowl.  I’ve got my Academy Awards.

What Was It About

This year, the big question was would best picture be taken by the Social Network or by the King’s SpeechI predicted that the Social Network would win and I was wrong.  The Academy gave best picture to The King’s Speech which, unlike Black Swan (my personal choice for best picture), is a film that is very easy to love.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved The King’s Speech and, seeing as how I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of The Social Network, I can’t complain about the Academy’s decision (though apparently almost everyone else can).

By the way, as far as my Oscar predictions went, I ended up going 15 for 22.  I correctly predicted all of the categories except for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography.  So, in other words, I correctly predicted all of the awards except for the ones that actually mattered.  However, I am proud to say that, as the broadcast started, I predicted that it would last for 3 hours and 15 minutes and by God, I was right.

So there.

What Worked

Roger Ebert called last night’s ceremony the worst he had ever seen so I guess it’s no surprise that I actually enjoyed it.  I certainly felt it was an improvement over last year’s ceremony which was pretty boring except for when Kathryn Bigelow won best director.  There weren’t any endless tributes, self-congratulatory speeches about how important the film industry is for the survival of the world, and we didn’t have to sit through any pre-scripted, awkward banter between poorly matched presenters. 

As for the hosts, James Franco appeared to have mentally checked out before the show actually started but he was nice to look at.  Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, was a bundle of nervous energy and you know what?  I would have been too.  For the first time in my history of watching the Oscars, I could actually relate on a personal level to what was happening on the stage.  I’ll take the charming awkwardness of Franco and Hathaway over Hugh Jackman any day.  Ebert disagrees.  He apparently tweeted that Kevin Spacey should host.  And, if I ever felt like spending three and a half hours watching some smug jackass singing Under the Sea, I’d agree with him.

I liked the opening film montage, which featured Hathaway and Franco going into Alec Baldwin’s dreams in order to learn how to host the show.  If nothing else, it paid tribute to just how much of a cultural phenomenon Inception actually was last year.  (At the same time, it also pointed out just how ludicrous it is that Christopher Nolan — who is hot along with being a genius, by the way — was not nominated for best director.)

Probably my favorite presenters were Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.  Kunis looked great and Timberlake won my heart all over again by announcing that he was actually Banksy.

The In Memoriam Tribute was actually pretty touching this year and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the audience has finally figured out how inappropriate it is to break out into applause in the middle of it.  A lot of viewers were apparently angered that Corey Haim wasn’t included.  Personally, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that Jean Rollin was left out.

For me, the best acceptance speech came from David Seidler as he accepted his Oscar for writing The King’s Speech.  His speech touched me as a former stutterer but on top of that, he delivered it with just the right amount of humility and humor.  Aaron Sorkin could learn a thing or two from Mr. Seidler.

Finally, I said earlier that I was hoping for just one upset win to keep things interesting and, to my surprise, the show provided me one when Tom Hooper beat David Fincher for best director.  Even among those who expected the King’s Speech to take best picture, the general assumption seemed to be that Fincher would win best director.  Personally, I think Fincher would have won best director except for the fact that people tended to think of The Social Network as being an Aaron Sorkin film as opposed to a David Fincher film.  In all of the preliminaries leading up the Oscars (the Golden Globes, the critics awards), the emphasis was always put on Sorkin’s screenplay as opposed to Fincher’s direction.  David Fincher was almost treated as an after thought and, as a result, Tom Hooper won best director.

(Of course, personally, I was rooting for Darren Aronofsky.)

Of the nominated films, Black Swan was my favorite, followed by 127 Hours, Inception, Winter’s Bone, and the King’s Speech.  I thought The Social Network was a good film but certainly not a great film and, to be honest, I’ve come to resent being told again and again by various online, self-appointed film gurus that my refusal to unconditionally love The Social Network is somehow an indication of a character defect on my part.  Seriously, some of these Social Network partisans make the Avatar people look tolerant by comparison.  I’m sure these people have spent last night and today ranting their little hearts out about how the Academy sucks and how The Social Network is clearly the greatest film ever made.  And to them, all I can say is get over it.  If you were watching the Academy Awards because you seriously felt that the awards actually mean anything, then you’ve obviously still got a lot of growing up to do.

That said, I make no apologies for being ticked off over the award for Best Feature Documentary but more about that below.

What Didn’t Work

Well, I’ll get the big one out of the way first.  This was the only time I actually got angry while watching last night’s show.  I’m talking, of course, about Inside Job winning best documentary.  This upset me even though I had actually predicted that Inside Job would defeat Exit Through The Gift Shop.  My objection comes down to this — Inside Job was the Capt. Hindsight of documentaries this year.  Inside Job was basically a documentary that told us what we already know and then encouraged us to pat ourselves on the back for agreeing.  In a year that was actually a pretty good one for documentaries, Inside Job was the least challenging of all of the nominees and therefore, I guess it’s not a shock that it won.  Meanwhile, Exit Through The Gift Shop — a film which should have been nominated for best picture — was ignored.

Add to that, I was really hoping for a chance to see how Banksy would accept the award or if he would even show up at all (or if he would turn out to be Justin Timberlake).  Instead, I got the director of Inside Job going, “You know, nobody’s been arrested for the bad economy yet.”  Well, if that’s what you think should happen then go to talk to the people who make and enforce laws.  But you’re on an awards show, buddy.  And if you think anyone watching an awards show is going to take action just because of some comment you weakly muttered during your acceptance speech, then you really are out of touch with reality.

We were reminded one too many times that we were watching “the young and hip Oscars.”  The young and hip Oscars would not have featured Celine Dion singing.

I really wish the Oscars would stop trying to force some artificial “theme” on each year’s ceremony.  This year, they took time to celebrate “the greatest films” of Oscar Past.  The problem, of course, is that most of the greatest films of Oscar past didn’t win best picture.  Usually, they ended up losing to movies like How Green Was My Valley, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Crash.

Aaron Sorkin won best adapted screenplay as we all knew he would and, as usual, he came across as smug and condescending during his acceptance speech.  The whole, “Daddy’s an Oscar winner now…” thing would have been touching if not for the fact that it’s been used at least once at every single Oscar ceremony in history.

Trent Reznor did not say, “I want to fuck you like an animal” while accepting his award for scoring The Social Network.  However, I must say, Trent cleans up well.

Technically, yes, James Franco was not real impressive as co-host.  The general consensus on twitter was that he was stoned but I can’t say too much against him because he’s James Franco.  Even when he showed up in drag, he was still James Franco.  I know some people looked at Franco last night and thought, He’s not even trying.  I looked at Franco and thought, yum…..

“Oh my God!  Just Like Me!” Moments

There were a few and most of them had to do with Anne Hathaway.  Most of the comments on twitter concerning Hathaway’s performance as host were not kind but I don’t care.  I love her and I think her lack of polish was actually rather adorable.  If I was hosting the Oscars, I would probably take a few moments to brag about my dress as well.  I know I’d certainly probably start giggling at random moments.  I also know that I’d probably get a little bit annoyed with James Franco’s lack of commitment to the show as well but you know what?  I’d still get all sorts of naked with him after the show because he’s James Franco and he just does things to me.

(If anything, last night’s show proved that the difference between a hot guy and all other guys is that a hot guy can get away with it.)

My other big “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment came when Melissa Leo won for best supporting actress for the Fighter and dropped the F-bomb on national TV.  I would so do that too.  I mean, it’s an Oscar!  God knows what I’d end up saying if I ever got one.

Lessons Learned:

I’ve seriously got a thing for James Franco.

Hey SAG! Where’s Jacki?


Is there any organization out there right now that isn’t handing out either awards or nominations?  Earlier today, The members of the Screen Actors Guild became the latest organization to join in the fun when they announced their nominations for the best film performances of 2010.

Here’s the nominees.  I apologize, in advance, for the lack of sarcastic commentary but I have a headache and, as a result, my wit is sleeping on the couch for now.

Ensemble:
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

Actress, Lead:
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Hilary Swank, Conviction

Actor, Motion Picture
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Actress, Supporting
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Well, okay, maybe I’ll make a few comments along the lines of “Yay for the love shown to Natalie Portman, John Hawkes, James Franco, Jennifer Lawrence, and Mila Kunis!”

But seriously, SAG, where’s Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver?  I mean, I can understand why Noomi Rapace was snubbed.  The Mainstream doesn’t want to remind people that there was a perfect Lisbeth Salander before Rooney Mara.  That’s how the game is played.  That’s why the people over at awardsdaily.com are already trying to claim David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as the film to beat for best picture next year.

But nobody’s remaking Animal Kingdom.  There’s nothing wrong with admitting that, in a year of excellent female performances, few were as a note perfect and unexpected as Jacki Weaver’s.

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.