Rated R for profanity, graphic sexuality, and drug use and disturbing violent images.
Aspiring Ballerina Succumbs to Pressures in Harrowing Psychological Thriller
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer with a leading New York City ballet troupe preparing to stage a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Although previously only a member of the chorus, she’s recently been informed by her director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), that he might like to feature her as the face of the company during the upcoming season.
She’s getting a shot because he’s decided it’s time to replace his prima ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder), an aging veteran looking a little long in the tooth. However, Nina is only one of a handful of promising aspirants invited to audition for the bifurcated lead role as both the White and Black Swan.
She proceeds to perform flawlessly as the former, effortlessly exhibiting the innocence called upon to play that part. But Thomas nevertheless has reservations about casting Nina when she fails to display the requisite post-metamorphosis sensuality expected of the character’s seductive alter ego.
Therefore, to test whether or not Nina has the mettle to capture the carnality of the Black Swan, he pressures her to prove that she’s not frigid on ballet’s equivalent of the casting couch. Instead of complaining or filing sexual harassment charges, the shocked young lady instead opts to play along, internalizing the angst generated by the violation. After all, she senses that if she fails to accommodate his advances, there are others just waiting to jump at the opportunity, especially her primary rival, Lily (Mila Kunis), a naughty newcomer.
Nina’s already fragile psyche is further compromised by the omnipresence of her overbearing stage-mom (Barbara Hershey). Erica Sayers can’t help but live vicariously through her daughter, employing reminders about “the career I gave up to have you” to motivate by guilt. As if all of the above pressures weren’t enough, when Nina is announced as Beth’s replacement, the recently-demoted diva asks, “What did you do to get the role?” insinuating that she must have slept her way to the top.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Black Swan is a harrowing psychological thriller, which paints a surreal portrait of the chilling consequences of compromising one’s values in quest of success. For the closer our heroine gets to the realization of her lifelong dream, the more we bear witness to the gradual disintegration of a tormented soul swallowed whole by blind ambition.
Beyond the film’s riveting front story, its dance sequences prove especially engaging, thanks to a splendid combination of costuming, sound, lighting and choreography as executed by a score of professionals courtesy of the Pennsylvania Ballet and the American Ballet Theater. An intriguing mindbender certainly
deserving of all the attention it is apt to earn over the course of awards season, with Natalie Portman certainly a shoo-in for an Oscar Award nomination.
Running time: 107 Minutes
Rated R for violence, brief nudity and pervasive profanity.
Spacey Stars in Seriocomic Potboiler Revisiting Abramoff Scandal
Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) was a veteran Washington, DC lobbyist whose outrageous exploits made even members of his own shady profession blush. In the ‘90s, the services of the shameless attorney, along with those of his equally-unscrupulous business partner, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), were retained by seven different Native American tribes interested in opening gambling casinos on their reservations.
The notorious pair collected over $100 million in fees by pretending to approach powerful politicians like President G.W. Bush (Brent Mendenhall) and Speaker of the House Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett) on behalf of their gullible clients. Truth be told, they were only playing the Indians off against each other in a case of corruption so flagrant it eventually caught the attention of the authorities.
For Jack was a boorish bloviator predestined to meet with an ignominious end given his flamboyant lifestyle and his backstabbing. In 2006 he pled guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, before he started serving a six-year sentence in Federal prison.
Directed by George Hickenlooper, Casino Jack offers a seriocomic take on all of the above. The picture stars Kevin Spacey, who plays the title character as more of a lovable rogue than a despicable figure deserving to be shunned by polite society. After all, Jack does have his plusses, such as being a big supporter of Israel and an observant, orthodox Jew who tries to stop his wife (Kelly Preston) from smoking on the Sabbath.
Still, the sleazy smooth operator seems oblivious of his own culpability to the very end, whether he’s lamenting an ill-advised liaison with the mob-connected, mattress salesman (Jon Lovitz) that brought down his empire or channeling Al Pacino (from And Justice for All) by yelling “You’re out of order!” at a judge during a climactic moment in a packed courtroom.
A revisionist history biopic, reminiscent of Charlie Wilson’s War, which recasts an arrogant influence-peddler behaving like he’s above the law as merely a bad-boy bon vivant with the best of intentions.
Running time: 108 Minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening December 17, 2010
BIG BUDGET FILMS
How Do You Know? (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Three-time Academy Award-winner James L. Brooks directs this romantic comedy in which a free-spirited 27 year-old (Reese Witherspoon) lands in a love triangle where she has trouble deciding between a major league baseball player (Owen Wilson) and a corporate executive (Paul Rudd) who’s just lost his job. And featuring another triple Oscar-winner in Jack Nicholson.
Tron: Legacy (PG for action violence and mild epithets) Sci-fi sequel finds the tech-savvy son (Garrett Hedlund) of a missing video game developer (Jeff Bridges) pulled into a parallel, cyber universe where he searches for his father with the help of a fearless warrior (Olivia Wilde). Support cast includes Yaya DaCosta, Bruce Boxleitner and Michael Sheen.
Yogi Bear (PG for mild rude humor) Combination live action/CGI adventure finds “smarter than the average bear” Yogi (Dan Ackroyd ) and sidekick Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake) joining forces with Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) to save Jellystone Park from greedy developers. With Anna Faris, Christine Taylor and T.J. Miller.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
And Soon the Darkness (R for violence and torture) Remake of the 1970 thriller about a couple of young Americans (Amber Heard and Odette Yustman) whose exotic vacation in a remote region of Argentina turns nightmarish when one of them becomes the latest victim in a string of kidnappings targeting female tourists. With Karl Urban, Adriana Barraza and Gia Mantegna.
Casino Jack (R for violence, brief nudity and pervasive profanity) Two-time Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey plays the title character in this political comedy revisiting the scandal which ruined the career of Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful DC lobbyist convicted of fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion and influence peddling. Cast includes Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz and Kelly Preston.
Frankie & Alice (Unrated) Oscar-winner Halle Berry stars in this psychological drama about a disturbed black woman’s struggle to get control over her multiple personalities, including a racist, self-hating alter ego. Supporting cast includes Phylicia Rashad, Stellan Skarsgard and Chandra Wilson.
Rabbit Hole (PG-13 for profanity, drug use and mature themes) Relationship crisis drama about a grieving couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) whose world comes apart at the seams in the wake of the car accident, which claimed the life of their son (Phoenix List). With Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito and two-time Oscar-winner Dianne Wiest.