Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Black Swan

Genre: Mystery & Suspense
In short: I loved it. Its a flawless film. I watched it tonight, and wow, I thought it was one of the best films I have ever watched.

Natalie Portman's performance was mesmerizing. Her acting was superlative. She played the role of the sheltered, insecure, fragile, but highly skilled ballerina to harrowing perfection.

The other actors Barbara Hersey, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis also give exceptional performances.

The story, pacing, direction was also brilliant. Darren Aronofsky, the director and script writers should win an Academy award for their work.

But wow, I love how they brought the film to that ultimate climax - that Dance of the Black Swan - I was riveted. I don't wish to give the story away - but Portman had spell-binding screen presence. Did anyone else notice the shadow of the black wings in the background?? Wow!!! I want to watch it again!!! That was good!

Hmmm... ok, what I didn't particularly like was the handheld camera effect at the initial part of the film. I guessed it helped conjure up the tension - that feeling of being stalked. ... But to be honest, I totally forgot about it midway when they switched to more orthodox filming approaches.

Other things- ok - so its got a few adult themes. I suppose the use of drugs will result in this film being cut or banned in Singapore. But it wasn't gratuitous.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The King's Speech (Collin Firth) 2010

Lionel Logue: [as King George "Berty" is lighting up a cigarette] "Don't do that in here".

Prince Albert (later King George VI): Why not?

Logue: Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.

Albert: My physicians tell me it helps to relax the throat.

Logue: They're idiots.

Albert: They've been knighted.

Logue: Makes it official then.


With such witty and wonderful dialogue, how could I not like this film?

The story is about the then Prince Albert (or rather His Highness Prince Albert of York, "Albert Frederick Arthur George" , otherwise known as Bertie to family) second in line to the throne of Great Britain (when it was Great) and his painful stammer which is a source of acute embarrassment to himself (as well as his family and nation).

Medical knowledge and their treatment of stammering was not so good back then. The doctors even advised him that smoking cigarettes would help ease his stammering. The other treatments prescribed by the medical establishment prove equally as ineffectual and embarrassing.

Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), the enigmatic speech therapist. The Prince's snobby but practical wife, played by the now matronly Helen Bonham-Carter, tracked him down and hired him to treat her husband.

The story then revolves around the developing relationship between Bertie and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). We see them as the odd couple at the start. The proud Prince who is conscious of his social status and Logue, kind but abrasive and irreverent in that typical smartass Aussie manner.

Eventually, they did develop a warm and affectionate friendship. I guess in part because Logue realized that stammering was due in part to social and psychological pressures - and helped to address those issues in the Prince/ King's life. The other doctors treated the problem as purely a bio-mechanical problem which could be fixed by stuffing marbles down his throat or just yelling at the patient "to improve".

Both actors give great performances. Firth is brilliant as the aloof, initially reluctant, and distrustful aristocrat, while Rush plays the witty, flippant specialist who deeply admires his difficult client despite his arrogance.

I also absolutely adored the beautiful 1920 style architecture and the other marvelous set pieces. I was mesmerized by Logue's spartan art deco office, that imposing large fire place, the criss cross stained glass, the ornate bronze lights... the simple elegance of that room made me want to rush home and redo it. Bloody hell my room is a mess.

I felt that the film could have been improved on three parts.
. The film really needed to stress the unsuitability of Prince Edward to be King. Edward, Albert's older brother, was 1st in line to the throne. Albert became King George VI due to his brother, Edward, infamously abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee, which was prohibited at the time.

Of course, modern scruples would wish to paint Edward as the real hero - giving up his kingship for LOVE - that's the REAL STORY in today's society.

But in actual fact he was a playboy, a dilettante. He didn't give a damn about his role as king instead he just wanted to live the high life, and sleep with as many married women as he could grab. Even after he abdicated he was constantly badgering his brother for cash to fund his extravagant lifestyle. This was despite the fact that he was already considerably wealthy owning plenty of properties inherited from his father. In short he would have made a terrible king and its a very good thing that he stepped down.

It also wasn't just the Royal Family that was against the marriage. The Dominions - the representatives from Australia, New Zealand, for example, were scornful of the marriage and said they wouldn't approve of having an "adulterer" as their Head of State. Edward's response was (in effect) "So what? There weren't that many people in Australia anyhow."

Edward's lover - Wallis Simpson - also made a very poor candidate as Queen. She was the ultimate gold digger, swinging from husband to husband, lover to lover in search of a bigger purse. She was also a Nazi sympathizer; she was even reputed to have been sleeping with Ribbentrop, Nazi Germany's Foreign Affairs Minister. At a time of war, she traitorously leaked sensitive information about the Allied defenses to Nazi sympathizers and was practically happy when England was bombed by Germany. She was a pretentious upstart who sought the status and priviledge given to royalty without any of the responsibility. Wallis demanded that her staff refer to "Her Royal Highness", which she was not entitled to.

In short, she was a very unpleasant woman totally undeserving of the public affection then and now.

The couple also visited Nazi Germany several times and met with Hitler (without the approval of their Government). During the first year of WW2, Edward and Simpson stayed on in occupied France, apparently in the hope that England would collapse and that he would be appointed King by the Nazis.

The film made the mistake of telling this negative aspect of the couple in a small conversational scene- rather than showing it. For the sake of drama they could have had a scene where Albert finds the couple talking with the Ribbentrop - cumulating with Edward trying to persuade Albert to take a more pro-Nazi stance.,_Duchess_of_Windsor

Instead we are left with the negative (and false) impression (in the film) that Albert's wife, Elizabeth, was a snooty arrogant snob who despised Wallis for being a divorcee and an American. In reality Elizabeth never said a nasty word to Wallis as shown in the film.

2. The Handling of WW2 and the King's role in it. Whilst the film is about Albert's stammering problems, it is also about the importance of the King as a symbolic leader of Great Britain - hence the vital importance of the King's need to conquer his problem. The scene at the end when Edward, now King George VI, gives an impressive speech felt a bit too triumphant - the way he swaggers back like a rock star was so wrong. I felt that detracted from the seriousness of the situation. Their country was at war - and although the King had given a great war speech - it should have been tied in with the gravity of the event. They were at war. Millions of people were going to get maimed and killed.

I felt they should have had a cautionary moment at the end. Logue (et al) could have heartily congratulated the King, the King is happy, but then he pauses and says, "But its going to be a long war... I'm giving speeches while sending young men to their deaths." They both look very solemnly at each other. Then Logue says something about the importance of the King's speech to the nation and the people - and the fact that although Hitler was a powerful orator, the King represented something morally superior... and needed to articulate that.

3. Stylewise - this is just my personal opinion - I felt the handling of Prince Albert's stammering problems in public could have been done better. What was the point in the opening scene which spent 5+ minutes showing the BBC presenter, an incidental character in the story, preparing himself? They should have done more with the scenes where Albert is consciously stammering and there's total silence - just Albert and his acute embarrassment.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Beckoning Silence

I just watched the documentary, "The Beckoning Silence" - which is a film about mountain climbers who climbed the infamous North Face, and the perils that they faced. Its narrated by Joe Simpson who also has an incredible story of survival to relate. He even wrote a book about it, "Touching the Void".

I found this story - enthralling to say the least - due largely to the exceptional narration given by Joe Simpson, a man who has been there, done that, experienced defeat, depression, and revival!

He tells his own remarkable story, entwining it with the tale of the ill-fated climbers from the story, "The White Spider".

If you are kind of bored at work, or feeling rather miserable, I urge you to watch this film - not to motivate you to do this sort of crazy activity - but to show the level of human endurance, strength, perseverance, and ultimately, rash recklessness... stupidity. All that effort, and for what? The thrill. The Beckoning Silence. The lure of the Syren.

I can relate to that, as I've done some pretty dumb things in my life before.