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Archive for December, 2010

Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Two out of Five ‘Staches.

Julie Taymor is no stranger to working with Shakespeare.  She has directed numerous stage productions of his work and garnered acclaim with the film “Titus”.  With “The Tempest”, Taymor gives the audience a pretty straightforward adaptation of the play; barring the fact that the main character has been given a sex change and goes from Prospero to Prospera.  When all is said and done though, “The Tempest” is fairly flat and hard to take seriously.

Let’s just get to the nitty-gritty.  “The Tempest” is a gorgeous looking film.  The scenery is breathtaking without a doubt, but it all still comes off as a set piece.   It almost feels like they took three locations and one set they built and said, “well it doesn’t look like a stage, so people will love it.”  If you are adapting a work from the stage and bringing it to a world that you have more liberty to explore, I would imagine you should explore it.  The landscapes are vast and wide, yet the whole time I still felt like I was looking at a production, not a world.

The same sentiment goes for the actors as well.  This film is jam-packed with talent, yet they all seem to be acting as if they are on a stage.  I know Shakespeare wrote with a rhythm and if you are taking the word direct from the page, there may only be so many ways to deliver them, but again, you have the liberty to explore, don’t squander it.  One of my favorite Shakespeare “updates” was the criminally under-rated Ian McKellen version of  “Richard the III”.  In that film they used the original dialogue whilst bringing the story into the times of WWI.  Nothing seemed out of place and everything more or less worked out for the better.  That was a film that dared to play with the source material, just a little, yet create something new and adventurous about it.  “The Tempest” comes in  giving the character a sex change and just presents something nominal.

The biggest flaw of this film however, come from the choices made in how they dealt with the fairy, Ariel.  Every time Ariel comes on the screen, I could not help but try to hold in the laughter I felt trying to burst out of my body.  I dare anyone who sees the film to tell me the visuals of Ariel “attacking” the boat at the beginning of the film are not the  most cheesy and corny images ever to be put onto film.  The level of pure hilarity in which the character is presented, never lets up, even when he is presented as a large black monstrous crow that is supposed to be dark and imposing but comes off more as ridiculous and unimpressive.  I also can’t get past Russell Brand acting and talking like Russell Brand.  The choice to put him in the role makes sense on a characteristics level, but his ability to bring in a worthwhile performance really deflated any scene he is in.  The same can be said for Djimon Hounsou, but more for the fact that it is difficult to understand one word he says for the entire film.  Though he does sport some of the best make up, it doesn’t redeem the rest of the performance.

This version of “The Tempest” was a royal let down.  While the rest of the performances, including Helen Mirren’s, were not bad, I feel none of them are worth elaborating on.  Every time i think about this film, the first thing that pops into my head, is disappointment.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Four out of Five ‘Staches

Darren Aronofsky splashed onto the scene with his hyper-speed thriller, “PI”.  It was gritty and unsettling and it made everyone want more.  He followed it up with “Requiem for a Dream,”  a dark, nervous and unflinching adaptation of the Herbert Selby novel.  It was a masterpiece that will go down in film history as the greatest film you may only want to see, just once.  While his following films were not bad, they were nothing to write home about. “Black Swan” is Aronofsky’s return to brilliance and while some people may not return for a second viewing, as with “Requiem for a Dream”; this film will get into your head and stay there.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who falls into what you would consider the typical stereotype you may have for a dancer of her kind.  Very focused on her dance and nothing else; perfection in her art comes second to nothing.  She is already noticeably unsteady when it comes to her mental state when the film starts, but as she prepares to take the lead in a production of Swan Lake, her fear of imperfection in all facets of her life begins to ramp up.

There have been films before this one that explore the stress, competition and need to be the best when it comes to dancing.  “Black Swan” takes the concept and turns it into a vacuous nightmare that will leave you startled and tense, all while taking your breath away.  The visuals range from the gorgeous to the creepy. At times the changes are made effortlessly and while you know what is truly happening, the lines of reality and madness still seem blurred.

The problem I had with Aronofsky’s, “The Wrestler” was that is was a very clichéd story and the movie really lived on one thing and that was Mickey Rourke’s performance.  Yes, “Black Swan” is not the most original idea when it comes to its plot, but it handles it in a completely new way, rendering anything similar to it, small and pathetic.  Natalie Portman, like Rourke, not only carries the film, but truly makes it her own.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Portman’s; she’s good, but hasn’t ever done anything to really knock me off my feet.  The work she turned in for “Black Swan” however, is exceptional.  Portman looked at the door marked “Big Time Actress,” and instead of step through it, she knocked down the walls around it.  Throughout the film she holds her own, but the range and sudden changes of emotions she exhibits in the finale of “Black Swan” will impress even the most snobbish critic.

While the film focuses on the world of dance and the ballet, the moral isn’t confined to that space. We all grow up wanting to be perfect in some way, desirous of being the person that everyone envies or admires.  However, it is important to remember that our imperfections are what make us desirable.  The most trained ballerina may be able to perform a pirouette more graceful than most, but there is always someone else who can do it just as well, if not better.  Technique is just something you can obtain with practice, but true beauty comes from being able to feel something inside yourself that makes you, if nothing more, a little different from the person standing next to you.

As with my review of, “Love and Other Drugs”, I will mention this in the name of full disclosure.  Yes, there is a pretty intense sexual scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.  No, you do not see any naked body parts and I hope everyone sees this movie, because it’s an experience not to be missed, and has nothing to do with the sex scene.  There are few films that exist without fault.  Some of the visual metaphors tightly straddle a fine line between some of the most incredible visuals you will see on film and some that are overly ridiculous. Luckily, those few over the top spots are quick and don’t ruin the movie experience as a whole.  “Black Swan” has something to offer every type of audience member.  It’s for the dancers, the film buffs, the people who want to be scared and the people who just enjoy seeing beautiful women on the silver screen.  Let it be noted though, this film will terrify and haunt you in more ways than one.  It also does for nail care and nail care products, what “Psycho” did for showers; so be prepared.

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