Black Swan DVD review

Out now on DVD, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, much like its subject matter, is thrilling and darkly majestic, featuring an incredible performance from Natalie Portman as its tormented protagonist. 

Set in the brutal yet beautiful world of ballet, Daren Aronofsky’s psycho-thriller leads us on an intoxicating and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a principal working at a New York ballet company, as she grapples with her dual role as the swan queen.

In a career defining performance, Natalie Portman excels as the troubled Nina Sawyers, whose life is consumed by dance. After years toiling in the chorus, Nina is finally given her chance in spotlight when the company’s chauvinistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) chooses her as the lead in a new version ofSwanLake, replacing his bitter has-been star, Beth (Winona Ryder).

Graceful, delicate and innocent; Nina perfectly embodies the role of the white swan, yet the ballet’s principal must also capture the essence of the evil Black Swan. This demands a wild, alluring and sensual sexuality which Nina lacks, yet the company’s newest member Lily (Mila Kunis) effortlessly embodies.

For Nina to dance both sides of the swan queen, she must let go of her inhibitions and embrace her sexuality (to achieve this, Thomas demands relentless training and masturbation). As Nina attempts to embrace her dark side with reckless abandon, her initial rivalry with Lily morphs into a twisted friendship.

In her unrelenting pursuit of perfection, Nina becomes so absorbed with her character and performance that artistic breakthrough fuses with mental breakdown, and Aronofsky’s distorted use of mirrors become powerfully symbolic of her fracturing mind and personality.

 As her paranoia intensifies, the realms of fantasy and reality dissolve and we become complicit in Nina’s terrifying hallucinations. Her reflection continues to stare back after she has turned away, paintings writh and shriek before her eyes, she imagines horrific self-harm, embarks on a sexual tryst with Lily and begins sprouting feathers.

Although demanding to watch at times, Portman’s award-winning transformation into the swan queen is nothing short of stunning. She endured ten months of gruelling and immersive training to help her deliver a virtuosic performance worthy her ensuing Bafta and Oscar glory. The film’s intricate ballet sequences are delivered and captured beautifully, as Aronofsky’s floating camera tracks his subject’s every movement to thrilling effect.

With costume design playing an integral role, it fell to Amy Westcott to create the company’s elegant attire, with Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy collaborating on the hauntingly beautiful outfits featured the final performance, when Nina surrenders completely to the black swan and performs the role to tragic perfection.

Provocative, powerful and visually arresting, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a creature of intense beauty; as elegant and mesmerising as it is seething and ferocious.


“The King’s Speech” DVD review

The Royal Standard

The King’s Speech *****

It’s been a good year for British filmmaking with The King’s Speech garnering critical acclaim both at home and abroad, collecting a royal  flush of awards along the way, which included 7 Baftas and 4 Oscars in the major categories Best Film, Director and Screenplay with double acting honours given to King Colin himself. Now the biggest British film of the year, and no doubt the decade, is available on dvd. If you missed it in cinema (sacrilege!) grab yourself a copy now- trust me, The King’s Speech and Colin Firth deserve all the hype!!

Driven by a magnificent performance from Colin Firth as King George IV, Tom Hooper’s film tells the story of the afflicted monarch’s personal struggle to overcome his stammer and rally his nation during the onset of war.

After the death of his father (Michael Gambon) and the abdication of his arrogant elder brother Edward (Guy Pearce) in favour of the arms of American divorcee Wallace Simpson, it falls to the Duke of York, Albert (or Bertie) to take the throne. Yet these are perilous times in 1930’s depression-eraBritain, when a nation is gripped by the threat of war withGermanyand the introduction of mass media throws Bertie his greatest challenge: a nine minute radio speech addressing his subjects across the empire.   

The prologue depicts the extent of Bertie’s affliction during an agonisingly embarrassing speech at Wembley Stadium during the 1924 Empire exhibition. We then fast-forward to 1934 when Bertie’s charming and robustly supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bohnam Carter) seeks the help of an innovative and straight-talking speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

While the film’s social and political background is acutely observed and carefully interwoven, The King’s Speech transcends its historic setting to focus on Bertie’s personal journey and his relationship with Logue, who is optimistic and charismatic where Bertie is solemn and repressed.

An unlikely bond is forged between king and commoner as their sessions slowly progresses from sparring matches with sharp and witty exchanges, to genuine friendship. In these impeccably written scenes David Seidler finds humour and emotion, while Firth and Rush are both exceptional and work off each other beautifully, as Logue pushes Bertie to soften his reserve and come to terms with his illness in a step to overcoming it.

Hooper’s backdrops, pace and tone further enhance Seidler’s uplifting and compelling tale of British stoicism and quiet heroism, which is ultimately driven by fantastic character performances from an impeccable cast, including Derek Jakobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.

Firth delivers a performance of a lifetime and expertly conveys the depth of Bertie’s sadness, toil and torment, often without the need for any words at all. While the era and characteristics of Englishness it puts forth may be lost to the history books, The King’s Speech is a rich yet crowd-pleasing showcase of filmmaking at its very best!

Catfish: A Cautionary Tale for the Digital Age!

If anyone caught the network premiere of Catfish on More4 last night, they would’ve been given a harsh and often hilarious reminder of the certian perils of social networking and the potential pitfalls of finding love online. The documentary created by 28-year-old Henry Joost and 29-year-old Ariel “Rel” Schulman using handheld digital cameras follows Schulman’s brother Nev after he makes a Facebook connection with child prodigy Abby Wesselman and her eccentric family, including her creative and beautiful 19-year-old sister Megan.

What was initally intended as a sweet record of the shy photographer from New York’s burgeoning online relationship with Megan, Abby and her mother, soon turns into an engrossing detective story; as Nev becomes more involved in the family it becomes increasingly apparent to the three young film makers that things arent quite as they seem!

Things start innocently enough. Nev recieves painted copies of his own photos in the post from Abby, a little girl from rural Ishpeming, Michegin. They become pals via Facebook, Nev chats on the phone with Abby’s mum and begins a cyber relationship with Megan, at which point Rel and Henry begin filming the scenario from Nev’s point of view – they reckon the resulting film will be a great mememto for the couple, but when the group start to become suspicious of the Wesselmans, after Nev discovers that songs Megan claims she wrote for her beloved are taken straight off Youtube, a surprise trip to Ishpeming uncovers a twist in tale so bizzare that you couldn’t make it up! Or could you? (cue spoilers)

Since Catfish’s debut at the Sundance Festival, critics and audiences alike have been fairly dubious about the film’s authenticity as a documentary – given its incredible twist in which sexy Megan, her network of 17 Facebook friend’s and Abby’s artistic talent all transpire to be complete fabrications, labouriously created by Angela – Abby’s 39-year-old mother/bored housewife and carer, who suffers from schizophrenia and it seems is besotted with poor Nev. (the scene towards the end where Nev sits in a rocking chair chatting to Angela about the deception as she paints his picture and swoons over his smile is painfully hilarious!)

True or false (and I think I’m a believer here, whatever Morgan Spurlock might have to say on the matter) Catfish may begin as a seemingly intrusive look at online love but ultimately turns into a rather moving and haunting story of someone looking for an escape from a tedious life and the extent to which social media can be used, and sometimes abused, to obtain that. It’s certainly a far more candid and revealing look at how big a role social media and networking plays in our lives, with Henry and Rel incorporating Facebook images, status updates, Youtube clips and even Google Maps to chart the trio’s bizzare journey.

The experience doesn’t seem to have put Nev off looking for love on Facebook though (he met his current girlfriend through the newtorking site) and at the end of Catfish we’re told that he remains friends with Angela, who has started selling her artwork online. While all involved seem to have proffited from the film, its ultimately little Abby I feel sorry for – she’ll eventually grow up and learn of Catfish’s twisted tale and her mother’s oddball actions.

Still, I’d reccomend Catfish as essential viewing: a fascinating cautionary tale for the digital age!

Curiouser and Curiouser … The Scottish Ballet presents ‘Alice’

Right now, Glasgow’s Theatre Royal is home to Alice; the Scottish Ballet’s version of the fantastical tale by Lewis Carrol. I took Mum as a Mother’s Day present at the weekend and its safe to say we were both blown away by choreographer Ashley Page’s inventive and colourful take on the story!

Page uses Charles Dodgson’s (aka Caroll) obsession with photography to literally frame Alice’s adventure as the gorgeously styled White Rabbit (danced with pinpoint precision by the nimble Laura Joffre) pops out from a huge old-fashioned camera to tempt an inquisitive Alice to follow her, with the fabulous Tomomi Sato giving a spirited performance as the mischievous lead.

In an intriguing twist, Page makes Charles (Adam Blyde) a character in his own plotline as he attempts to guide his protagonist through the bewildering world of wonderland. This was a decidedly darker and seductive retelling of the story, which explored the relationship between Charles and Alice. The pair’s duets were both beautiful and disconcerting, and Charles tries to keep a hold of the young girl who continues to grow further away from him. 

Along the way, little Alice encounters a host of crazy characters ranging from friendly, to menacing and beguiling. The louche Caterpillar languishes on a giant toadstool before whisking Alice through a dynamic tango, the Gryphon and Mock Turtle are washed-up, end of the pier entertainers, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee are bickering school girls and Humpty Dumpty is a squat, Lee Bowery-esque baby in yellow rompers and a fried egg hat who tries to explain the Jabberwock’s poem to Alice.

As the Queen of Heart’s executioner, the faceless Jabberwock which prowls the stage dragging a bloody axe is  menacing and tormented, portrayed through a powerful performance by Gabriel Barrenengoa.

By far, my favourite part was the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, played out on a huge, chequered table among oversized china, with Lalya Harrison standing out as the adorable sleepy Dormouse dressed in pyjamas. The characters’ topsy-turvy choreography was quirky and fun to watch, with its lighthearted humour proving a good antidote to more sinister episodes.

Suitably surreal, the production was enhanced by the clever use of visuals and psychedelic yet minimal sets designed by Anthony McDonald and, of course, the costumes were glorious, especially the Cheshire Cat (Lucianna Kaizzi) in a sexy corset and stocking-style tights!

I’ll admit I’m no expert when it comes to ballet; my interest was rekindled after watching Black Swan and I fell in love with the idea of ‘story ballet’ after watching The English National Ballet’s version of Cinderella, but I loved the Scottish Ballet’s version of Alice. The dancing was beautiful to watch, especially Alice’s solo performances and her tender duets with Charles. There was also a lot of vibrance and energy in parts which were both bizarre and hypnotic, making sure the audience were as confused and intrigued as Alice herself.

All in all, the Scottish Ballet’s tumble down the rabbit hole is a visual treat for the senses: psychedelic, surreal and deliciously dark!

Alice plays at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 22nd, then travels to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Cardiff.

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