Movie Review – Black Swan

Ballet is an interesting activity. When done right, it can be mesmerizing and impressive as hell. The physical demands placed on the dancers are enormous (I recall reading a book that described ballet dancers as all being “half-crazed with hunger”), and I can only imagine how heavy the psychological burden must be, especially if you’re not the most stable person in the world to begin with. That’s situation in which a young dancer (Natalie Portman), finds herself in Black Swan.

The movie tells the story of a New York ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. Never seen it performed? Me, either. Thankfully the movie tells you the story of ballet so you’re pretty well-prepared for what’s going on and the eventual overlap between the ballet’s story and the movie’s story.

Anyhow, Portman’s character really, really wants to dance the roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan. She eventually lands the role, but as she does her levels of stability begin to decrease dramatically. She starts hallucinating, scratches her back to the point of bleeding, begins interacting with another dancer who is everything she isn’t, deals with a very unstable mother who clearly wishes she was the one dancing the role, and has a crush on the ballet company’s director.

There’s a lot of psychological drama in this movie; a lot of times when you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is real or just happening in the main character’s mind. I like that in films, when it’s done well (it is here). It’s also fascinating from a technical aspect to watch the way color is used. The ballet world is one of heavy blacks and greys. Portman’s character’s bedroom is a place of white and pink. Her clothes start out white but by the end of the movie there’s a lot of black and grey in them.

And not enough can be said about Portman’s performance. She really is very good in a movie that demands quite a lot of her (she apparently spent 10 months training as a dancer to do the role). She does an excellent job of conveying the mental state of someone who isn’t really that well connected to reality, and she definitely earns every accolade she’s received.

This isn’t the best film of 2010, but I would put it in the lower-half of the top 10.


What Should America Do?

As events in Egypt drag on, the central question on the Sunday talk shows is what we should do about it. Many people seem to have the opinion that we should, at all costs, stop democratic reform in Egypt, since it might lead to an Islamic government that’s hostile to Israel. I think this is what we call “obnoxious”.

Here’s what we should do: stand up for the principles we claim to hold. Defend the Egyptian peoples’ right to self-determination. Call loudly for reforms in public, and then Obama needs to be on the phone calling firmly but privately for Mubarak to resign. Yes, there’s a chance that a democratic government in Egypt might end up being Islamist and hostile to Israel. That would suck. But if that happens, it means that there needs to be a PR campaign to change the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people rather than the current situation, where there’s peace because a dictator is stomping out any possibility of no peace.

Besides, we should trust the Egyptian people. They have had thirty years of peace and diplomacy with Israel. There’s no reason to assume that’s going to suddenly disappear if they are allowed the same freedoms as we enjoy.

Ultimately in the long run we need to stop propping up anti-democratic regimes simply because we happen to like what their leader is doing for us. It’s a bad, odious habit that always comes back to bite us in the ass (Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are great examples of this). Either we are a country that supports freedom and democracy for everyone or we’re just a bunch of self-interested hypocrites. I know which I’d rather we be.

Say Hello to Captain Emo, which earlier this week posted a fantastic map of the Twelve Colonies from Battlestar Galactica, is now announcing who will be playing young William Adama in the next spinoff of the series. It’s none other than Luke Pasqualino, best known to the world as Freddy from the second generation of Skins.

What part of this says 'ace fighter pilot'?

Bah, Pasqualino has proven on Skins that he’s not that great of an actor. I don’t think he’s horrible, and he might have been hampered by the fact that his character was so poorly written, but there’s nothing I’ve seen about him so far that makes me want to see more of him. Nothing at all. Seeing more of him would be-

I got yer vaguely ethnic boy RIGHT HERE, pal!

– would be… would… ah. I… uhm… where was I? *ahem* ‘scuse me a moment, I need to go take a cold shower.

TV Review – Skins – “Tea” and “Frankie”

Yep, you get a twofer here, kids! I’m reviewing the second American Skins episode, “Tea”, and the first episode of the fifth series of the UK version of Skins, “Frankie”. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin.

“Tea” – This is the first episode that’s original to the US series. This is by necessity since it focuses on Tea (pronounced Tay-ah), the lesbian character who was created for this show as a replacement for Maxxie. Tea is an uncertain, still closted girl who apparently goes from meaningless sexual encounter to meaningless sexual encounter with no emotional involvement. She also tries to come off as very arrogant and self-centered, though this seems to be something of a front.

We see her picking up a girl at a club and taking her home. There’s some hardcore scissoring, followed the next morning by her mixed Jewish and Italian family meeting the girl. Yes, Jewish and Italian. This is, I assure, a recipe for calm, quiet family gatherings on television that aren’t even remotely hyperbolic or exaggerated.

Anyhow, young Tea’s father wants her to go out on a date with a co-worker’s son. Said son turns out to be Tony. The two talk, drink, dance and generally connect. Tea feels somewhat lonely and messed-up after this so she goes back home and winds up sleeping in her grandmother’s bed. Ole granny is a few pancakes short of a stack, but she’s still able to tell a quiet, very emotional story about a woman named Marta that she was once in love with. It’s a sweet scene and really makes the episode.

There’s a lot that I liked about this story. Tea already has more character development two episodes in than Maxxie managed in two whole series on the British version of the show. I like that. I also really liked the conversation with her grandmother, and I like the fact that her father at least seems to know she’s a lesbian, even if no one else does and even if he won’t say it.

What I didn’t like? This show’s version of Madison Twatter turns up again, as he should, but a: he’s not nearly as interesting as Mad Twatter, and b: his storyline also comes to an end (apparently), with this story. That irritated me a bit. I also have to agree with a friend of mine who said that it seemed a bit early to have this much plot resolution with Tea, and that perhaps if we’d gotten to know her a bit more, this story might have been better.

Overall, it was a solid episode.

The new UK cast.

“Frankie” – Well, say hello to the new generation of UK Skins kids! We’re introduced to them through the eyes of Francesca “Frankie”, a young girl with two days (rather like Francesca on the old Tracey Ulman show, and I doubt that’s a coincidence). Continuing Skins’ exploration of the spectrum of teenage sexuality, Frankie is clearly either a female-to-male transsexual with an interest in males or a reverse drag queen. There’s nothing about her that is even remotely feminine, and every time I see her my hormones do odd things.

She arrives at Roundview College after narrowly escaping several bullies. She promptly pisses off one of the mean girls, but said mean girl then starts trying to be nice to her. That this is a setup is something that occurs to Frankie only later, and that results in one of the bully’s friends deciding she’d rather hang out with Frankie. We also have brief meet-ups with some of the other new kids, but none leaves a lasting impression (yet).

This is a far stronger start than what we got with the second generation, which kicked-off the Freddy/Effy thing that would come to dominate two entire series and bore me to tears. Frankie is an interesting and three-dimensional character and I really look forward to seeing what becomes of her. I also liked the fact that it’s clear that at least part of her nemesis’ problems with her seem to stem from some level of attraction.

Beyond that I can’t get much of a read on the other characters. This will change in time and next week’s episode looks like it should be pretty interesting. It’s a very solid start, though.

So there you go! Two new episodes, both of which were pretty darn good! Here’s to hoping this can continue.

Movie Review – The King’s Speech

Speech impediments are a horrible thing to deal with, I’d imagine. And I’d imagine they are far, far worse if you’re the titular leader of 1/4 of the world. That’s the situation faced by King George VI in The King’s Speech.

George VI (Colin Firth), called “Bertie” through most of the film, was never meant to be king. His brother, David, was the one who was meant to be king, but no one, including his father, seemed to feel he was up to the task. Everyone seemed to have the opinion that Bertie would at least be there to advise the king and would hopefully help him to be better. This all changed when David, who came to the throne as Edward VIII, abdicated to be with the woman he loved, thus making Bertie king. This was something of a problem for young Bertie on several levels, not the least of which was the fact that he had a severe speech impediment.

That impediment is the focus of this film. We see the future king and his wife (Helena Bohnam Carter), reaching their wit’s end in trying to get help to correct his problems. Out of desperation, she seeks out an Australian actor/speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). He’s a man of extraordinary methods and boldly claims that he can cure the problem. Eventually, through a mix of psychology and friendship, he’s able to make very real progress.

This is one of those great English movies that uses their unique institution of royalty and uses it well. Much like The Queen, which focused on George VI’s daughter, we see a fairly dysfunctional family that’s lead by someone who, in theory, wields tremendous power but by law has that power severely limited. It makes for great, quiet drama and more than a little humor, particularly in what I shall refer to as “the Tourette’s scene”.

And speaking of that… this movie is rated R. It’s got that rating because of two scenes where there’s a copious amount of swearing. This is flat-out stupid. It should have been rated PG13 with a warning about the language. There is nothing, nothing at all, that makes this a film that’s inappropriate for anyone above the age of ten or so, but since the MPAA is what it is, it got an R rating. Stupid.

This is one of those movies that can’t really be improved, except perhaps with a somewhat longer run-time. I liked it and I would have liked to have seen more of it. It’s easily the second best film of the year, and will likely earn Oscars for Firth, Rush and Carter. Really, it’s just a great movie and I’m glad I went to the extra trouble of seeing it.

Right Now, Egypt. Next Up, Yemen!

We’ve all seen what happened when Tunisians took the streets and took their country back from the authoritarian regime that was controlling it. Now the same appears to be close to happening in Egypt where CNN is running non-stop coverage of events unfolding there. With any luck, by the end of the week Hosni Mubarak will be gone and a democratic government will be taking control. Also over the last couple days there’s been protests in Yemen. This is wonderful news, since that’s a state that harbors a lot of terrorists and its reform would be a great blessing to the world.

Now there’s been people here in the USA complaining that we shouldn’t be supporting these movements in case the new democratic governments wind up putting Islamic extremists in charge. Well, bollocks to that. First, it’s not likely that will happen. Second, if it does, well, democracy isn’t always pretty and doesn’t always give us what we want. We have to accept that as a possibility. It’s more important that the people of these nations (and Algeria, Libya, Syria, etc), get the same sorts of rights we enjoy than it is that they exercise those rights in a way that will make us happy.

Good luck to those in Egypt and Yemen! May you guys get the governments you deserve instead of the ones you have.

Русские “Науки Тайны театра 3000”?

Apparently, this exists.

I love that the bad guy is apparently Hitler.