Saturday, January 29, 2011

Black Swan

I walked out from my viewing of Black Swan feeling as if I needed a Valium.

Mrs. Film Geek and I spent the 20 minute drive home debating what we just watched. We agreed Natalie Portman gave the performance of a lifetime. We disagreed, though, about whether the transformation her character experienced was the result of a psychotic break, or a cinematic technique to clue the audience in to Portman's severe internal conflict. By the time we arrived home Mrs. Film Geek had won the debate.

Note to self: Don't argue psychological issues with a clinical psychologist.

Watching Portman's Nina Sayers is difficult; the intense performances, sensitive material, minimalist acting, and stark direction causes every scene to be intense. By the movie's end the audience has been beaten down emotionally and psychologically. Just like Sayers. We're exhausted, a bit paranoid, and desperate. During our discussion on the drive home, Mrs. Film Geek described best how we both felt about this movie.

Black Swan is more an experience than it is a movie. And it's brilliant.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Powerful performances by Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Javovich, and Frances Conroy help Stone overcome obvious flaws in production and story development. The film is based on a play, and the pace and tone make it feel like one. The feeling that comes from that production creates an intense emotional connection to the characters, despite none of them being particularly likable.

But man, those performances...

Robert De Niro is, of course, one of the greatest actors of all time. Edward Norton will be thought of in the same way during the next decade. Both elevate their scenes, especially the scenes in which they are face-to-face, to a special level. Milla Javovich does crazy like nobody's business, and is a treat to watch. But it's Frances Conroy's stilted performance as a housewife who's accepted her unhappy lot in life who makes this film successful for me.

Her repressed hostility and regret caused me to have The Danny Gut early on.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Please, Make It Stop: Part 21

It seems Oprah's got herself a new family member.

According to reports, Oprah's gonna reveal today on her talk show that she's got a half-sibling, a sister named Patricia, with whom she shares a mother. While I suppose that's interesting in a rubber-neck sorta way, it's certainly not a "miracle."

From Black Voices Buzz: "I thought I'd seen it all. But this, my friends, is the miracle of all miracles." During her preview of the show last Thursday, the word "miracle" popped up on screen.

Miracles are pretty rare, Oprah. And when they do occur, they have an almost supernatural feel about them. It's a miracle when people live who should have died. The term "miracle" is sorta reserved for those incredible experiences that happen, but can't really be explained.

The fact you have a long-lost half sister ain't that grandiose, babe. Except in your mind.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I had lots of reasons to avoid this 2010 Ryan Reynolds thriller. I'm horribly claustrophobic (that's not an overused, cliched use of the term; I panic in small spaces), and I'm terribly celebofthemomentphobic (an overused, cliched term I created to explain my suspicion of hot celebs, like Ryan Reynolds).

Except for his upcoming Green Lantern flick...I'm too much a fanboy to dis that one, of course.

So Mrs. Film Geek had to beg me to sit with her to watch Buried. She said something about her interest in the movie being based in genre, but I couldn't help notice her excitement when she saw the good-looking Reynolds was the star. So after popping some extra-buttered popcorn, I settled in to be disappointed.

I wasn't.

Buried tells the story of truck driver Paul Conroy, who works in Iraq during the height of the recent war. The film opens--and takes place completely in--a 6.5 ft. by 3 ft. wooden box buried six feet under the sand in the Iraqi desert. In the box with Conroy is a lighter, a flask, a glow-stick, a cell phone and a pencil. He has no idea who put him there, and no idea how he's going to get out.

One of the most incredible aspects of Buried is its statement of how our society has changed over the years in regard to social interaction. As Conroy attempts to use his telephone to call for help, he's put on hold, forced to interact with automated answering services, and told by the few humans he reaches that they can't help him. People are so self-involved that they don't really listen to a man trying to explain that he's buried in a box in the Iraqi desert and that he's going to die if he doesn't get help soon.

The conversation with the Human Resources director of the company for which Conroy works is particularly troubling.

The angles filmed by director Rodrigo Cortes are used brilliantly to let the audience feel the alternating desperation and hope that Conroy experiences. The movie is compelling, and Reynolds is, [ahem] very good in the role.

Even if he is eye candy.

Friday, January 07, 2011

True Grit

I estimated the average age of those in the packed theater to be around 55. "Lots of John Wayne fans here tonight," I whispered to Mrs. Film Geek as the movie began. "I wonder if they'll be disappointed. This Cohen Brothers movie is supposed to be closer to the novel than the Duke's movie."

"Duke who?" she asked.


The 1969 flick was an important one to me. It's one of those movies I shared with my Dad, although we shared it in silence, watching it on TV while sitting across the room from each other. Dad loved him some John Wayne; the increased rocking in his chair and extra shake in his crossed leg during that reins-in-his-mouth scene gave it away.

Otherwise, I might never have known. We didn't talk a whole lot about flicks.

My crossed legs shook a lot during this re-telling of the Charles Portis novel. The Cohen Brothers have made many of the best movies of the past 25 years (with the exceptions, of course, of The Ladykillers and Burn After Reading) by telling compelling stories about the frailties of being human. The brothers take on this western is no different: their genius ability to write dialogue that's as interesting for it's rhythm and cadence as it is for it's content is here, as is the common theme of characters being transformed by the events they experience. The 2010 True Grit, however, is a more visually stunning movie than others in their filmography. Several scenes in this movie were emotionally moving not for the spoken word or the acting, but for the imagery and cinematography. It was incredibly powerful.

Jeff Bridges is terrific in the role of Cogburn, and Matt Damon delivers the Cohen-lingo perfectly in the role formerly acted by Glen Campbell. But it's little known Hailee Steinfeld as Matti who draws the audience in. She makes us invest in her; we feel for her, care about her, and worry about her. That empathy lets us appreciate and care for Cogburn, because despite the fact he's a drunk and a reprobate, he cares about Mattie too.

Near the end of the movie, during a highly emotional scene in which Cogburn shows he's still able to care about someone other than himself, I noticed Mrs. Film Geek wiping the tears from her eyes.

"Enjoying the movie?" I whispered.

She leaned over, and said: "The girl is incredible. I love her."

I stopped shaking my legs and reached for her hand. I knew we'd talk about it in detail on the way home. We have in common a love for movies, but even more a love for talking together about why we love movies.

And I smiled.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Other Guys

I've always been one of those other guys.

Not one of the ones who causes people to stop talking and look when I walk into a room. Not one of those guys who knows immediately what to do in any situation or circumstance. I was never one of those who had the confidence to know that whatever line I used to pick up women was going to work every time.

Hell, I just deleted and re-typed "pick up women" three times before I decided to leave it in the preceding sentence. The phrase felt too bold, too sure. Feelings with which I'm inexperienced.

I'm methodical. Built for distance. I'm quick to size up a situation so that I can ponder it for as long as possible, making sure all the peripheral options are covered, before I act. It isn't sexy. It isn't dynamic or cool. But it's me.

Mark Wahlberg has a reoccurring line in The Other Guys that stood out to me. He sees how he wants his life to be, but feels held back by himself and his co-workers from realizing his ideal. In his moments of frustration he yells: "I'm a peacock, you've gotta let me fly."

It's funny for a number of reasons, but especially because peacocks don't have the ability to fly more than a few feet, and when they do their flight is awkward and clumsy. Wahlberg feels what he wants and needs to do, but can't quite get it right. He's one of the other guys, after all.

I understand.