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19 reviews in total 
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Black Swan (2010)
8 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Don't Believe the Hype, 7 January 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I really don't understand all the awards buzz surrounding this film. It is so over-the-top campy! Maybe a little bit of this was on purpose--casting Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder is already perhaps something of a clue to where this film's sensibilities lie. Even Vincent Cassel camps it up, and he is too good for this not to be on purpose. The premise is just so tired: "You must break through to the dark side to create real art, even if it means destroying yourself." Yawn. Maybe the film was really, at heart, making fun of this credo? I just don't give it that much credit. But credit is due to Natalie Portman, who manages to weather the storm and play her role convincingly enough. Maybe this is what is so jarring--she plays it straight while most of the other actors in the movie do not. Anyhow, this film didn't gel for me, though I could not fail to be moved by Tchikovsky's music for "Swan Lake," the most beautiful ballet score of all, and overwhelming in its beauty.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Hot Mess, 9 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film was a succès de scandale when it was released twenty years ago, and although (in Europe and America) HIV is not the death sentence that it was at the time, the film still packs an emotional wallop. It is the portrait of a completely self-centered man who is willing to put others at risk in search of his own pleasure and self-actualization. Is he a despicable character? Yes. Does that mean the film is automatically bad? No,however...

The film contains too many unfocused scenes of characters lashing out. By the fourth or fifth scene of the young female protagonist screaming on the phone, screaming in the street, screaming at the door of the apartment, it becomes overdetermined. The film tries to tackle too many subjects--sadomasochism, skinheads, internalized homophobia, bisexuality, AIDS and responsibility, teenage love... it ends up something of a hot mess. I gave it six out of ten because I feel that it is worth seeing, because it captures a certain zeitgeist of the pre-antiretroviral moment, but one does feel a bit on watching it today that it has not aged all that well.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Gorgeous., 23 November 2009

This is yet another gorgeous film from Almodovar--a 9 because it isn't as great perhaps as his truly great films of the last decade (Talk to Her, Volver, Bad Education), but almost. Whatever happens in an Almodovar film of recent vintage, I always find viewing it an extreme pleasure. He is a visceral and visual director, and I don't know of anyone who is currently making more beautiful movies.

Penelpe Cruz... a star, an absolute goddess of the cinema... one of the few actresses working today who really deserves the big screen. I don't want to give away plot points, so I won't say too much--but the scene with the tomatoes, making the gazpacho! There are myriad references to film history, clever use of film-within-a-film, both hallmarks of Almodovar that put his film-making on a higher plane. If, in his early films, he made a mockery of melodrama through high camp, in recent years he has used melodramatic storytelling as a useful framework for cinematic experimentation, and I think in the process he has made a unique and enduring contribution to world cinema. I loved this film.

4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Thin, 12 September 2009

This portrait of Valentino shows a vain aging giant and his devoted business partner, who provides the center of the film, as Valentino does not seem to be very interested in participating in this feature-length glamour-shot. The clothes are lovely--Valentino is an extremely talented designer, wedded to a solid, if traditional, notion of female glamour.

The main problem with this film is I didn't learn anything from it--the portrait of Valentino in the New Yorker a couple of years back was far more revealing and informative. While this film has its entertaining moments, anyone who has seen documentaries about, or witnessed first-hand the fashion world has seen it all before. The film should have gone into more detail about Valentino the man, rather than just giving us a superficial portrait. Assolutamente not essential viewing.

75 out of 94 people found the following review useful:
Meryl Streep, 10 August 2009

Ms. Streep's performance alone makes this film worthwhile--in recent years she has really shown her great talent as a comedian (Adaptation, Devil Wears Prada, this film). She has great comic timing, and always goes just far enough for the laugh, and usually not too far that it feels staged or unnatural.

From the reviews I read, I was really expecting not to like the "Julie" half of this movie--but I was pleasantly surprised. I read both "Julie and Julia" and "My Life in France" earlier this summer, and I have to confess that I didn't love the Julie Powell book. Amy Adams really brings this character to life and makes you care about her (more so, I think than the book did). One problem with the balance in this project is that Julia Child did something really important for cooking in America, and so her story is inherently interesting. Julie Powell wrote a book. That became a movie. Add to that the fact that the heavy hitters in the film all live on the Julia side--Streep, Stanley Tucci, and a great cameo by Jane Lynch--and the deck feels fully stacked. Full credit to Amy Adams and Chris Messina, then, for making us care about the half of the film that teetered on the edge of the perfunctory.

This film is all the more remarkable in that it is so rare to see a film these days that just revels in joie-de-vivre. I'm sure a lot of the rough edges of Julia's personality are smoothed over--but some of the stressful moments are there. I just felt so much affection for Streep's Julia Child in this movie--and I laughed repeatedly and heartily at her antics. A fun time at the movies--which is a rarer pleasure than it should be.

9 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
Camp Fest, 28 June 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I think this series is terribly overrated. I kept watching through the whole thing, hoping it would get better, but it just got campier and campier when Caligula came on the scene. Sian Phillips anchors the first half of this series with fine acting, but after Livia's death, I felt my interest wane. There is some good acting, but quite a fair amount of bad (Augustus Cesar in particular). The series is overly driven by plot--even over 13 episodes the series feels like a rote telling of events rather than a fully realized drama. This is an historical soap opera, all surface and no depth. For those who rate this the finest television series ever, I would refer them to "The Wire," which maintains characters and a narrative over five seasons brilliantly.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Eh., 17 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was underwhelmed. Most of the negative criticisms ring true to me--too long, too sophomoric, ridiculous plot. The Mr. Big jilts Carrie at the altar premise is soooo tired, and soooo predictable. Perhaps we have just had enough of these characters...

But as fluffy candy, it largely works. For those who think that the product placement and label worship run contrary to the spirit of the show... please, spare me. Carrie was always a label queen, and the montage of wedding gowns is beautiful. The costume design by Patricia Field is the best thing about the movie. And the actresses all look great. Is this enough to "carry" a movie (insert lame pun per SATC writing handbook)? Eh. I saw it, because as a gay New Yorker I somehow felt obligated. Would I see it again? No. But there are worse ways to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Un navet, 28 March 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The French have a term for a film this bad--un navet (a turnip). But turnips are much tastier than this tired, cliché-ridden mess of a film. I can handle a frothy film if it is done well, but this one is careless, with plot, with acting, with everything. Valerie Lemercier gets a couple of laughs as the aging TV serial star, but the conceit that Sydney Pollack would hire her character to play Simone de Beauvoir after viewing a couple of seconds of her absolutely mediocre TV series, plus some scenery-chewing in a Feydeau production, is absurd.

The acting here involves lots of smiling (Cecile de France) and trying to look pensive (Albert Dupontel), but no subtlty, no nuance. The only joie de vivre really comes from the gardienne of the theater, who dances around to French pop songs she remembers from her days at L'Olympia. Everything about this film feels forced, especially the budding romance of Fred and Jessica--absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. If you're going to make a romantic comedy, you at least have to have that.

Bottom line--a total waste of time.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Ho-Hum, 3 March 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a somewhat tedious dysfunctional-family-slice-of-life picture. That the director had already given us a great film from this genre (Squid and the Whale) makes this one all the more disappointing. Pit overachieving, manipulative sister against underachieving manipulative sister--and go! That's about all you get from this film. The acting was very good all around, and some of the scenes rang true of petty family dramas, but overall it is just an average picture.

Nicole Kidman does show her remarkable range in this film. Her character is caught in a trap of wanting something more from life and not knowing how to get it. She runs through a range of complex emotions, and it is particularly interesting to see how she uses her son as a locus for the problems of her marriage. She loves her son but pushes him away, she at times wants to hide her true feelings, and at other times she is brutally honest. The whole film works like a bit of Freudian analysis for her, and ultimately allows her to work out her demons and choose her son, and by extension her family life. This is a good showcase for Kidman, but ultimately one finds oneself thinking that this is not enough to carry the film.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Gorgeous, evocative political art, 27 January 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. Julian Schnabel has a superb visual sense, evident from the very first scene of the dense tropical forest with voice-over narration. At every moment, Schnabel's visual poetry accentuates, compliments, illustrates the poetic life of Arenas. While he gives the story room to breathe, he never abandons the narrative thread which takes keeps us involved from beginning to end.

The core of the film is in Javier Bardem's wonderfully charismatic performance of the censored Cuban poet and novelist Renaldo Arenas. If one compares this performance with his others (e.g. "The Sea Inside" and "No Country for Old Men,") it is hard not to conclude that he is one of the very best actors working today.

The film is a ruthless look at the abuses inflicted upon art in totalitarian regimes. Arenas is persecuted because he is gay, but chiefly because he is an artist who refuses to compromise his ideals or stop writing. His story is inspirational, and it is a great testament to Schnabel that he was able to make a film that makes such a strong artistic statement of its own, but compliments and accentuates Arenas's story, rather than overwhelming it.

A masterpiece.

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