Black Swan


Black Swan

Run time 108 minutes.
Not for children.

Vincent Cassel and Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.”

I don’t know what director Darren Aronofsky has against ballet, but he takes whatever it is out on the art in this horror film starring Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, the ballerina chosen to play the Black Swan in Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassel, who gives another fine performance after sparkling in the 2008 Mesrine films) production of Swan Lake.

Aronofsky takes a script with four separate credits and pieces together a troubling story of a girl Thomas thinks needs to break out from her sheltered existence. The result is a scene of lesbian oral sex that originally got the film an NC-17 rating, which is meant to symbolize Nina finally letting go, although I don’t know why a heterosexual sex scene wouldn’t have accomplished the same purpose. The Weinstein Company fought it and finally the MPAA relented and gave it an R rating. There is no nudity in the film, but the lesbian oral sex scene is graphic.

Nina has a smothering ballet mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who is as devoted to Nina’s career as Nina is herself. Maybe this is realistic, because I do know from personal experience how much time mothers devote to their ballerina daughter’s training and careers, but that’s about the only thing that’s realistic about this film.

The dancing is disappointing, to say the least. When someone is spending the time and money to bring a ballet story to the screen, one would think that there would be a lot of effort to ensure the dancing is high quality. Someone dropped the ball here, because the dancing scenes of the Corps de Ballet are sloppy. Whoever was directing them wouldn’t make it even with the Rockettes, much less a major ballet company.

Even so, the film is interesting as Nina fights her demons, all the while trying to satisfy Thomas to achieve the performance of which he tells her she is capable. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to watch. In addition to the sex scene, there are several scenes of graphic violence.

I happened to sit by a ballerina who had worked in The Turning Point (1977), a fine movie about ballet. She was incensed at the treatment of ballet in general and the ballerinas in particular, and felt that Thomas’ sexual advances on Nina were absurd. Another friend thought the film “laughable.”

The ending leads one to wonder what was real and what was fantasy in what came before.

I thought it a troubling, unrealistic excursion into a director’s phantasmagoric brain, but still entertaining, and I’m not an aficionado of horror films or ballet.

The Dilemma

Run time 112 minutes
Not for children.

Kevin James and Vince Vaughn in “The Dilemma.”

This review contains spoilers. I deplored the morality and inconsistencies and sexism of it so much that I can’t write a review without going into what happens in more detail than I usually do. So if you want to go see this despicable film, you should probably not read this review.

This is no comedy. It deals with a serious issue of problems in a marriage, but it does so in such an ignorant, clumsy, sophomoric way with a sexist point of view that it loses any value, either morally or in terms of entertainment.

In this film, directed by Ron Howard and written by Allan Loeb, the main point is that it’s OK for a husband to withdraw sex and philander, but woe betide his wife who loves him but is driven into the arms of another man by his actions.

Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) learns that Geneva (Winona Ryder), the wife of his best friend, Nick Brannen (Kevin James) is having a clandestine affair. In his mind, this presents him with the titular “dilemma,” to tell or not to tell. Ronny rants and raves and goes through impossible machinations (few of which are funny) to try to decide whether or not to tell his friend.

To make the film even worse, Geneva actually explains to Ronny that she loves Nick, but her infidelity with Zip (Channing Tatum) was caused by Nick’s withdrawal of sex from her and getting it with prostitutes, a certainly rational, if not moral, explanation for her actions. Maybe it doesn’t justify what she did, but it explains that the problem isn’t as simple as it appeared on the surface, and her explanation should have been enough to convince anybody dense enough to consider telling on her to stay out of it. But he perseveres.

Even more of an anomaly is the way Ronny’s girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connolly), sticks with Ronny. Ronny lies to Beth every chance he gets. He even ruins her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with a completely idiotic toast, implying that her parents cheated on each other.

It’s unlikely that Howard is so obtuse he doesn’t realize the dichotomy he’s created with Ronny as a man who hypocritically considers himself so honest he feels required to tell his friend of Geneva’s infidelity, but lies habitually to his girlfriend. So his creation of Beth’s unquestioned love for him despite this, and his painting Geneva as the sole person at fault in her relationship with Nick has to be intentional. This is nothing if not sexist.

The ending is disgraceful. Frankly, I’m surprised Howard could get any thinking actress to participate in a film with such a deplorable tone about women.

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