Mike’s Been Watching…
BLACK SWAN [Main Picture]
DIR: Darren Aronofsky
Black Swan is a perfectly fine film. It is neither excellent nor terrible, as admirers and detractors have respectively claimed, and to equally hyperbolic degrees. It’s just… y’know… there. Natalie Portman is astonishing in the role of Nina, and her Best Actress Oscar is much deserved. It’s a performance of astonishing grace, horror and paranoid detachment, filtering emotions through dance and lonely, flickering eyes. This is the best she’s been since Leon (1994), and I was blown away by the depth of her portrayal. The film is also beautifully shot by DP Matthew Libatique, and its visual quality is hypnotic. Aronofsky handles the action with confidence, obvious symbolism aside (enough with the mirrors!), and gets us intimately close with the dancers, especially in the Swan Lake finale, which is breathtaking. These elements really work about Black Swan, and make it a recommended viewing, but outside of them? It’s psychosis-by-numbers, surrealist-lite and blindingly predictable at every turn. For all the talk of Aronofsky’s latest as an art film it is unquestionably mainstream fare, targeted at those who have never seen a pre-Pianist (2002) Polanski. I mention the Polish auteur because, despite all the critical parallels to Perfect Blue (1998) and Suspiria (1977), the film Black Swan most genetically resembles is Repulsion (1965), the film where Catherine Deneuve suffered insanity and hallucinations of violent sexual abuse due to her virginal, mollycoddled repression. Remember the way the walls cracked? So does Aronofsky, who never abides by his own film’s central instruction; “Perfection is not just about control. It’s about letting go.” At exactly the point he needs to let go, Aronofsky holds back, and makes the film as safe as possible. It’s just a bit tame really, and that’s the biggest disappointment.
DIR: Jean-Luc Godard
And never was a film more aptly named. Having said that, the literally translated US title Every Man For Himself is a much better description of the film itself; a drama revolving around the intersecting relationships of three protagonists. After Tout Va Bien (1972) Godard semi-retired from narrative features, directing documentaries and shorts which experimented with film form. So, what did he learn in these eight years of innovation and investigation? Not much, it would seem, because Slow Motion lays bare all of the pretensions of his earlier work but without the dazzling ingenuity, aesthetic beauty or provocative intelligence of those films. À bout de souffle (1960) may have been produced from a studio firmly planted up Godard’s arse, but it’s an audacious and spirited work with some of the most iconic imagery in all of cinema. Here we just ponder and plod through scenarios with a bunch of typically Godardian self-obsessed intellectuals (read: buffoons) in need of a good slap. The director channels himself through the slimy, self-effacing Paul Godard (Jacques Dutronc), especially in a scene where he talks of making movies only because he’s “bored.” Well in that case I’d recommend retirement. The film also becomes incredibly creepy when the Paul character displays sexual urges toward his pubescent daughter (I’d guess she’s 14) and speaks of wanting to “see her tits.” There’s nobody to care about in Slow Motion, which is titled thusly because of sequences which are slowed down to observe subtle emotions written across faces. But even Isabelle Huppert is bland here, playing a country girl turned prostitute. There’s some nice camerawork in the film, and a beautiful score, but I’ll say what I always say when I find myself resorting to this as a singular accolade. Buy the soundtrack album. It’ll be infinitely more enjoyable.
Sam’s Been Watching…
BETTER OFF DEAD
DIR: Savage Steve Holland
Better Off Dead is one strange movie. It has a simple premise; Lane’s (John Cusack) girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) breaks up with him, so he decides to kill himself. Having failed in that endeavour he decides to impress Beth into taking him back by skiing the dangerous K12 slope. Around the same time, Lane meets Monique (Diane Franklin), a French exchange student staying with the family next door.
So far, so 80’s teen movie standard, but what surrounds this tale is some of the most bizarre and offbeat humour I can remember seeing in a movie. There is the phalanx of psychotic paperboys who chase Lane, demanding payment of a two dollar debt; there’s a dancing stop-motion hamburger; there’s Lane’s family, especially his near clinically insane mother and her horrible, occasionally mobile, cooking; and there’s Lane’s best friend (Curtis Armstrong), whose skiing advice is ‘Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.’
I love the absurdist humour of the film, but the performances are also dead on, be it Cusack as the heartbroken Lane, Armstrong as the longing to be drug addled Charles or the ever charming Diane Franklin, who is at her most adorable, despite (or perhaps because of) a terrible French accent, as Monique. This is likely to be love it or hate it stuff, but I’d definitely recommend Better Off Dead.
I’m not one of the world’s biggest Foo Fighters fans (though certainly I enjoy them more than the comprehensively overrated Nirvana), but you really don’t need to be to enjoy James Moll’s documentary about their sixteen year career. This is an impressively candid film, and while Dave Grohl doesn’t trash his reputation as the nicest man in rock he’s open about some of the times when he behaved badly towards other members of his band (notably re-recording all the drum tracks for second album The Colour and the Shape without telling his drummer).
The interviews are quite amiable, and this laid back approach probably helped Moll get the relaxed intimacy that all the band members, past and present, display. The best part of the film though comes in the last twenty minutes, when it zooms in on the recording of new album Wasting Light in Grohl’s garage. Here we get a real view of the workings of the band (and charming moments like Grohl telling his daughter he can’t go swimming until he finishes writing some lyrics for Bob Mould to sing).
It’s perhaps not one of the great rock docs, or so revelatory in its content as, say, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, but this is an easy, enjoyable and sometimes insightful watch for fans casual and obsessive alike.