Tag Archives: Black Swan


21 Jun

Title: Hesher
Spencer Susser
Writers: Spencer Susser and David Michôd, based on a story by Brian Charles Frank
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie
MPAA Rating: 
R, disturbing violent behavior, sexual content including graphic dialogue, pervasive language, and drug content – some in the presence of a child
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


And so here we are, at the final stop on the Natalie Portman Movie Domination Tour 2011. Because, as you may have noticed if you’ve been to the movies in this first half of 2011, Ms. Portman, fresh off the Best Actress Oscar she won for my favorite film of 2010, has been everywhere: from her turn in the R-rated rom-com No Strings Attached back in January, to the medieval stoner flick that was Your Highness a few months later, to her very own superhero blockbuster in Thor to kick off the summer, to the more indie project that was The Other Woman, she’s done everything. And I usually would be against such huge overexposure, five films in less than six months is really something, but you look at the roles she has in each of them and they couldn’t be more different from each other, so at least she’s been exercising her range, just having fun with her choices. Not to mention that those four films I listed have all been pretty damn decent (I’ve given them, in the order I named them, grades of B+, B, A- and B) which means that it’s not as though making all them so close to each other is taking away from the overall quality of any of them.

But, before Ms. Portman can take a well deserved breather, as she currently has no announced projects in which she’s set to star, we have to take a look at the fifth and final film she’s been in this year, which is Hesher. Now, the film is probably the worst out of the five 2011 releases she’s been in (remember I liked Your Highness a bit better than most), but it’s still good, and I’ll recommend it to people. Plus a film like this was bound to be polarizing, as it’s not really all that often that you get an insight that’s so dark, and so lacking of any real emotion, to any character like you do with our titular character here, and I personally liked that about this film, I thought it did it’s own very peculiar thing and it didn’t care about any conceptions people may make about it. However, as cool as refreshing as that may have been, at times it felt as the movie was doing that just for the sake of doing that, not really achieving anything outside of it.

And that’s, I think, what prevented the film from being truly something special, that more times than not I felt like it didn’t have any reason to exist at all, harsh as that may sound. Don’t get me wrong, the performance given by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role is absolutely incredible, a magnetic one that will keep you drawn to the film for its entirety, and Ms. Portman and Rainn Wilson are also very good in their supporting turns, but there was just no real substance to Hesher when it all was said and done. I mean, yes, we get a main character that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, a guy with long hair, creepy eyes, who loves porn and heavy metal, and has stupid tattoos that display gun violence on his chest, but once that novelty wears off there’s not much more underneath that.

And this character is pitted next to other characters that you just can tell weren’t meant to be in a movie together, something which is actually beneficial to that whole weird feel the movie has. I mean, Hesher himself is just thrown into the house of this 13-year-old kid named T.J. who’s point of view we see the film from, a kid who has just lost his mother, has a father that’s still in shock after becoming a widow, played sensationally well by Mr. Wilson, and a grandmother, played by Piper Laurie, who’s just sick of holding the fort together all on her own. And the reasons why Hesher, a guy that’s so different from them, is now to live with them, or just who he is, or where he came from, are never really explained here. And because T.J.’s father and grandmother are so depressed and idle with grief, they don’t really question why this bizarre guy is now to live with them, and they’re inactive when faced with his strange and violent antics.

And what happens after that feeling of not really know why everything is happening, nor why Nicole, the supermarket cashier Ms. Portman plays, is brought into the picture, you just get a movie that, while extremely well-acted, isn’t really saying much of anything. I mean, obviously there’s this big resolution at the end of the film after we’ve seen Hesher do his offensive and violent thing for an hour and a half, but even that I thought just didn’t really provide a solid enough sense of closure here. I liked the film, don’t get me wrong, but that’s fully because of Mr. Gordon-Levitt, Ms. Portman and Mr. Wilson, who I thought were simply superb, and even though I believe Spencer Susser, the first-time director of this one, showed some really promising things with his debut here, I think he crafted a character too complex and big to really contain successfully at his first big go-round at the helm.

Grade: B-


The Other Woman

23 May

Title: The Other Woman
Don Roos
Writer: Don Roos, based on the novel by Ayelet Waldman
Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow, Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan, Lauren Ambrose
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content and language
119 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 

This is the fourth 2011 film starring Natalie Portman I have seen after No Strings Attached, Your Highness and Thor, and considering I have rated none of those in the C-range (I gave them a B+, B- and A-, respectively) I think it should be said that Ms. Portman’s having a very good follow-up year to her tremendous 2010 which saw her pick up the Best Actress Oscar for her sublime performance in Black Swan, which was my favorite film of the year. The Other Woman continues that trend, as it’s one solid little film that has Ms. Portman batting four-for-four in 2011 with Hesher being her fifth and final release in this year which I’ve still to watch.

None of those films get her to give a performance like the one she gave as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece, but that’s because the role and the film didn’t require such a powerhouse showing from Ms. Portman, and she’s given the performances perfect for the films. In No Strings Attached, a surprisingly good romantic comedy, she’s super funny and cute acting from a pretty cool script by Liz Meriwether, and she’s just what the film needed. In Your Highness it’s the same, that’s the least impressive film of hers this year, but it’s cool to see that Ms. Portman can play a lazy stoner comedy and be totally game for the ridiculous situations she’s put on. Because her 2011 will be remembered as the year in which she showed he definitely had some range, I mean, a racy rom-com alongside Ashton Kutcher, a stoner comedy set in medieval times from the guy that directed Pineapple Express, and playing the romantic interest to a norse god in a superhero blockbuster. She’s done it all this year.

And she continues that trend of picking different roles this year with The Other Woman, in which she plays Emilia, a woman who just lost her newborn daughter with husband Jack, and is now seen trying to connect with his son form his previous marriage, as well as cope with Carolyn, Jack’s jealous ex-wife. And if I liked the film as much as I did, it’s essentially because of Ms. Portman, who delivers a pretty fantastic performance as Emilia that just elevates this film to heights that wouldn’t have been possible had it been left to rely only on Don Roos, who as a director leaves much to be desired and who as a writer, adapting from Ayelet Waldman’s bestselling novel, gives us a script too choked up with melodramatic moments and that leaves it with little breathing space to be anything more than that.

This really is a showcase of Ms. Portman’s skills as an actress, I mean she gets a lot of beefy scenes here, and comes through every single time, really letting us feel Emilia’s pain. And that is especially true in one stand-out scene with Lauren Ambrose, and in the ones she shares with Lisa Kudrow, who plays the ex-wife Carolyn and who’s the next best thing about this film, they are the ones that keep this film going on, and I think that if they had gotten a better director to guide them through it all then the result would have been that much better.

Not to say that everything other than the direction in The Other Woman is just great, because there are obviously other things that don’t work, but in a more free environment I just think Ms. Portman’s performance would’ve been allowed to shine that much more. But, let’s keep on showering the woman with praise for a bit here, because she really is splendid. We get to see how her relationship with Jack started via flashbacks, and get to see how fragile a marriage can turn after such a painful event as losing as child (though, of course, if you want to see a better portrayal of that then go watch last year’s terrific Rabbit Hole), and we get to see Emilia having a huge amount of trouble trying to bond with Jack’s son, and Carolyn angry at having to see the woman that broke up her marriage. And Ms. Portman does a tremendous job to show all of this, it’s not often that a movie’s main character is “the other woman”, much less one with such complex circumstances as Emilia, but Mr. Portman tackles the challenge of playing her head-on, and she delivers in heaps and bounds.

The direction by Mr. Roos however, like I said, ends up limiting this film quite a lot. And that’s not because he took this film to a wrong place, but because it seemed as though he was unsure about which place he wanted to take it to in the first place. Ms. Portman shows here that she’s dynamite at portraying these really difficult sort of emotions, but Mr. Roos for some reason just opts to show them in a way that feels too simple to feel real, and he takes away from her performance by doing so, not to mention that he seemingly never decides on the overall tone he wants the film to have, and it all feels decidedly unbalanced because of that.

There are some terrific scenes in The Other Woman, which is no surprise considering the source material is a fine novel, and the actors here are truly good at playing these scenes, and they all seem like really accurate observations of society nowadays, but for some reason it seems as though these observations have just been meshed together in a way that’s not cohesive at all, which obviously takes away from the end result considerably. And that’s what hurt this movie in the end, that at times it seemed to make little to no sense at all, taking us through complex roads it had no intention of following up on. But, hey, at least it did so with great acting, and that’s really what the film is all about, and because of that I’ll give it a good grade, because I did like it just fine, just interpret my disses to the film here as frustration about how much better it could have potentially been.

Grade: B

Your Highness

3 May

Title: Your Highness
David Gordon Green
Writers: Danny McBride and Ben Best
Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Rasmus Hardiker
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use
102 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 

David Gordon Green’s last film, 2008’s Pineapple Express, I consider to be one of the five best comedies of the past decade and is a film I can watch over and over again, and it’s one of those that if I ever catch on TV I will stop doing whatever it is I’m doing to keep watching it. Seriously, that film is full of hysterical moments coming from the likes of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, and even since that August I’ve been waiting to see what the guy was going to do next. It’s not as though the guy has just been MIA from our lives for the past three years, the guy has been on the director’s chair for half of the Eastbound & Down episodes there have been to date, and that show, which also stars Mr. McBride, is probably one of the five funniest ones on television right now.

So, you see, when the details started lining up for Mr. Green’s follow-up to Pineapple Express I was unable to contain my excitement. Not only would he remain in the stoner comedy genre that helped him craft that hilarious film, and not only was he now taking that funniness to medieval times, but he also got himself a tremendous cast. Mr. Franco and Mr. McBride are still there for him to work with and so are Zooey Deschanel, whom he had already directed to sublime effects in the tremendous All the Real Girls, not to mention that Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar victory for Black Swan is also part of the cast here. For those regular readers of mine you might already know that to me Ms. Deschanel is far and out the most gorgeous creature on earth, and also a seriously talented actress, and Ms. Portman, who’s pretty damn hot herself, is also ridiculously good. So yeah, this movie, on paper at least, was fool-proof.

On execution, however, it’s a whole different story. This is far from the worst film I’ve seen all year, but it just might be one of the most disappointing. You can tell they really tried their best to making the medieval feel genuine, the budget was twice as big as the one for Pineapple Express and it shows on the scale and costumes this movie counts on, but raunchy improv-heavy comedies don’t really need all of that, they just need people being funny, and by concentrating too much of the medieval-ness of it all Your Highness sometimes forgets about just being plain funny and ends up on a monotonous road that is often funny, but not as often as it should have been, or at least as I would have wanted it to be.

Look, I didn’t dislike Your Highness, and when people ask me about it I may even recommend it because it’s quite good fun. The thing is that if you’re like me and were hoping that this one was going to be just as great as The Pineapple Express, if not better, you’re in for a rude awakening, and you’ll find yourself frustrated about seeing these immensely talented people working with material that’s not worthy of them. I don’t know if that’s because the script, written by Mr. McBride along with Ben Best (who co-created Eastbound & Down with Mr. McBride as well as wrote some episodes for it), didn’t give them the proper cues or lines to be awesome or if, by making their actors feel free to do as much improv as they want, not even using a script on-set and just relying on notes and vague outlines, Mr. Green let this one go off its rails. Maybe it’s a combination of both, I don’t know, it just should have been much more than this.

Some critics are hating on this one quite a lot, Roger Ebert, the best one out there, gave it 1 star, ditto with Peter Travers, and Andrew O’Hehir said that for a few hours after having seen it he considered it may have be the worst movie ever made. Not to mention that the always-defiant Armond White went ahead and gave it a good review, which usually means the movie’s actually bad. But those opinions are really too harsh, I didn’t adore this to the level that I adored The Pineapple Express and No Strings Attached, that other film this year starring Ms. Portman, is a better movie than this one is, but it’s not that bad. And my guess is that some of the people that didn’t get this film just didn’t get it because they were totally not the target audience this one was aiming for.

Because, you see, if The Pineapple Express had a very definite audience for all its stoner jokes (though it laughed its way to the bank with $100 million in box office gross), then this one has an audience that’s infinitely more limited than that because it’s appealing not only to those who love stoner comedy, but who love medieval films as well. This is a film you’ll enjoy only if you go to see it high as a kite or if you’re one of us who love the 80’s fantasy movies and Dungeons & Dragons and the whole nine yards in between. And the people involved in Your Highness won’t care if you don’t like their film if you’re not part of that group of people because all their energy is spent into pleasing those of us who are. Not to mention that they were so obviously having the best time just filming this one so they probably won’t care either way.

And yet even though I’m a huge fan of that genre these guys are spoofing, and even though I clearly acknowledge the love these guys certainly seem to have for the genre, I’m still not sure I really loved this film all that much. Comparisons to The Pineapple Express aside, as necessary as they may prove to be, this is still not that great. But anyways, let’s take a look at the story it’s telling. It’s the story of Thadeous, Mr. McBride’s character who’s the character Mr. McBride is used to playing of the lazy-ass, foul-mouthed and inappropriate guy who this time around is the brother of Fabious, Mr. Franco’s character, who’s the heir to the throne and super macho like all the princes of the 80’s fantasy films are.

In any case, the bride of Fabious, which would be the part the stunning Ms. Deschanel gets to play, is kidnapped by the movie’s villain, who’s played by Justin Theroux who I think is quite good. So of course Fabious is to set on a quest to rescue his virgin bride from the hands of an evil sorcerer, it’s just that this time, at his father’s persistence, Thadeous is forced to tag along. And also tagging along is a very mysterious warrior girl they meet on the way, which would be Ms. Portman’s character. And that plot is one I like, and the idea of embedding it with some stoner references and a lot of modern profanities is one I embraced at first, but it turns out the laughs we get out of them are way too dumb.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a dumb laugh, Pineapple Express had them and they were great, and this one after all does reference a genre and films that were quite dumb themselves. And I do admit I gave this film a bit of hate at the beginning of this review, but that was just me venting off about this one not being the next Pineapple Express, but as a guy who’s unashamedly in love with fantasy films and their worlds, and has a special place in his heart for those bad ones made in the eighties, I thought this one was pretty genius, dumb as it may have been it was sure as hell made by smart people.

And finally let me just address on this closing paragraph to the other group of haters of Your Highness. If you’re part of the bunch that’s hating on Your Highness not because it’s not the next Pineapple Express but rather because it’s not the next George Washington or All the Real Girls or Undertow or Snow Angels, which were all pretty awesome and had a huge amount of emotional depth and showed Mr. Green as a director that showed a tremendous potential as a very exciting auteur (Terrence Malick was a producer on Undertow for god’s sake!) then let me just tell you something: get over it. Sure, those movies were amazing and if Mr. Green decided to go back to that area I would so welcome that, but if he wants to keep doing comedies, which seems to be the cast as he’s releasing The Sitter with Jonah Hill this August, then just leave him be, this one wasn’t amazing but it was still decent enough, and he’s proven he can actually do an awesome comedy, so yeah, leave him be, and this review is more than long enough already so I’ll leave it at that.

Grade: B

Oscar Predictions: Best Picture and Director

25 Feb

This is the last of my Oscar Predictions posts, in which I tackle the two main races: Best Director and, of course, Best Picture. These two races will see Sunday’s two main players pitted against each other, with The Social Network and The King’s Speech considered the front-runners for both categories.

Most are saying they will split the two, with the British biopic getting the big one, and David Fincher nabbing the Best Director statue for his work on the Facebook film. Some are saying The King’s Speech will get both, some say the same of The Social Network, so yes, there’s a nice variety of ways these two races could go. Read on through for my opinions.



  • Black Swan (Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin)
  • The Fighter (David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg)
  • Inception (Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan)
  • The Kids Are All Right (Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray)
  • The King’s Speech (Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin)
  • 127 Hours (Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson)
  • The Social Network (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin)
  • Toy Story 3 (Darla K. Anderson)
  • True Grit (Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)
  • Winter’s Bone (Anne Rosselini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin)

So, The King’s Speech or The Social Network? How this race has evolved has been the highlight of the 2010 awards season to me, The Social Network seemed unstoppable early on, winning every critic’s group award, the Golden Globe, nothing seemed to stand in its way to get the big one come Oscar night.

But then Harvey Weinstein came up with The King’s Speech and that one started killing it, winning the PGA, DGA, SAG, BAFTA, pretty much every single big award it could after that initial Social Network streak, and it’s now considered the clear front-runner.

This is obviously a question of new versus old. The tough, gritty, relevant and modern The Social Network, acted out by up-and-coming actors, a film in which there’s really no hero, no one to root for. And it’s standing against The King’s Speech, the sort of movie Oscar used to love, a biopic about the British monarchy, made by many veteran actors and which definitely tugs at the voters heartstrings with the warm relationship and message at the heart of the film.

My personal pick is actually Black Swan, but amongst these two I love The Social Network the most, I mean, to base a film on Facebook is daring enough, but to have the end product by this masterful, no one really saw that coming.

I’m gonna go and say The King’s Speech will win this one because it seems like it will, even though The Social Network is the better film. But don’t write out The Social Network just yet, it may seem like it’s all said and done, but a last minute revival may occur.

Should Win: Black Swan
Will Win: The King’s Speech



  • Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan)
  • Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (for True Grit)
  • David Fincher (for The Social Network)
  • Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech)
  • David O. Russell (for The Fighter

In my mind there should be a tie between Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher, the two are masters of their craft, and yeah, they should split the golden man up between the two.

But in all honesty, this one’s David Fincher’s. Even if The King’s Speech sweeps the night I think this one will still go to The Social Network. I mean, if a film about a social networking site and the story behind it was as compelling and intriguing and plain out entertaining as this was it’s because of how this man handled the material, sheer perfection.

Should Win: Darren Aronofsky/David Fincher
Will Win: David Fincher

Oscar Predictions: Best Leading Actor and Actress

24 Feb

In my second to last Oscar Predictions post I will tackle both Lead acting races, both of which are pretty much considered locks by most, but one of which really isn’t.



  • Javier Bardem (for Biutiful)
  • Jeff Bridges (for True Grit)
  • Jesse Eisenberg (for The Social Network)
  • Colin Firth (for The King’s Speech)
  • James Franco (for 127 Hours)

In case you were wondering, this is that one that actually is a mortal lock. There’s absolutely no way in hell Colin Firth will not walk away from the Nokia Theater without the golden man firmly in his hands. He gives a masterclass in acting in The King’s Speech, not to mention he’s coming off his other Oscar-noinated stellar performance in A Single Man last year.

Should Win: Colin Firth
Will Win: Colin Firth



  • Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Natalie Portman (for Black Swan)
  • Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine)

These are actually my Top 5 performance by any actress in a leading role in all of 2010, so I was specifically happy about this bunch of nominees. But this is the category which I think isn’t as clear-cut as most are assuming.

Yes, Natalie Portman has swept through the precursors, and her performance, to me, is certainly the best in this group and should most certainly earn her her first Academy Award (she was previously nominated for her supporting turn in Closer).

But then there’s Annette Bening. This woman is heavily involved in the Academy, absolutely loved and revered by everyone in the business, as she should be because she’s one seriously awesome lady, and has already lost three times before (twice to Hilary Swank, one of those, to me, quite unjustly), so the Academy may feel like she’s due (and she honestly is) and give her the award, even if her performance, stunning as it may be, isn’t as great as Portman’s.

So yes, I’m saying Portman for now. Not because she has won all the other awards, just because I liked her performance better. But maybe Annette Bening will pull off the upset, I mean, just look at her face during the scene at dinner in Paul’s house and it’s tough to argue against giving her the golden man.

Should Win: Natalie Portman
Will Win: Natalie Portman

Oscar Predictions: Best Original and Adapted Screenplays

24 Feb

In my seventh Oscar Predictions post I will examine the state of both writing races, the Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay ones, who seem to both have pretty clear-cut winners already.



  • 127 Hours (Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy)
  • The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin)
  • Toy Story 3 (Michael Arndt)
  • True Grit (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
  • Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)

Any other year and Toy Story 3 would have had a really solid chance, and it really would have been nice to see an animated film be the winner of a screenplay category, but the script Aaron Sorkin penned for The Social Network is shoulders above anything in contention this year, and there’s no way it’s losing this one.

Should Win: The Social Network
Will Win: The Social Network



  • Another Year (Mike Leigh)
  • The Fighter (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson)
  • Inception (Christopher Nolan)
  • The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg)
  • The King’s Speech (David Seidler)

This category is full of exemplary screenplays, even though it’s insane to me that the Black Swan screenplay wasn’t nominated. The King’s Speech is all but guaranteed to take this one, but boy would I really love an upset at the hands of Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.

Should Win: The Kids Are All Right
Will Win: The King’s Speech

Oscar Predictions: Cinematography and Editing

24 Feb

In my fifth Oscar Predictions post I will tackle two of my favorite categories, those honoring achievement in Cinematography and Editing. The candidates for both of these awards this year are pretty damn strong, and the race will be pretty interesting to watch unravel.



  • Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)
  • Inception (Wally Pfister)
  • The King’s Speech (Danny Cohen)
  • The Social Network (Jeff Cronenweth)
  • True Grit (Roger Deakins)

This will most likely go to the master that is Roger Deakins, who has had eight other nominations previously (4 of those for some of his other collaborations with the Coen brothers), and yet has never won. The look he achieved in True Grit is rather breathtaking and really sets the tone for the amazing film that was True Grit, it’ll be a well deserved win.

My personal vote, however, would no doubt go to Matthew Libatique, the first-time nominee who worked on Black Swan, 2010’s best film. The stuff he did in this film is really stunning, creating scenes of ballet and making them feel not only technically outstanding, but also conveying some really deep feelings with how he showed those dances, truly spectacular work.

Should Win: Black Swan
Will Win: True Grit



  • Black Swan (Andrew Weisblum)
  • The Fighter (Pamela Martin)
  • The King’s Speech (Tariq Anwar)
  • 127 Hours (Jon Harris)
  • The Social Network (Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter)

This should be one of The Social Network‘s big wins on Sunday, the editing of this film is truly amazing, and is definitely a big part of why this film ended up being so perfect, the way the scenes of just computer programming were cut, making them seem more entertaining than a car chase, or just the scenes of the characters delivering their very fast and witty Aaron Sorkin-penned lines was just incredible. So yes, unless there’s no justice in this world this should be a very deserved win for Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, who were both previously nominated two years ago for their work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another David Fincher film.

Should Win: The Social Network
Will Win: The Social Network