Scary Movie Review: Black Swan (2010)

For Halloween week, I’m watching and reviewing highly-regarded horror films that I’ve never seen before.

Title: Black Swan
Release Date: December 3, 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Production Company: Cross Creek Pictures | Protozoa Pictures | Phoenix Pictures | Dune Entertainment

This isn’t a conventional choice for a horror film but it deals with the protagonist having a mental breakdown, hallucinations, sexual assault, self-harm, eating disorders, and extremely unhealthy relationships, all things that are horrifying in their own ways.  Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a dancer selected for lead role in a New York City ballet company’s performance of Swan Lake.

Nina faces numerous conflicts, including internal, as she attempts to achieve “perfection” in her dance.  The company’s artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) drives her to let go of her inhibitions and makes unwanted sexual advances.  Nina’s mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), was a dancer in her younger days and is a protective stage mother eager to command Nina’s career.  Beth McIntyre (Winona Ryder) is the former prima ballerina forced into retirement by Thomas, who takes out her resentment on Nina.  And then there is a new dancer to the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), who lacks Nina’s technical skills, but embodies the sensuality Thomas is looking for in his dancers, and she is appointed as Nina’s alternate.

Since the movie is presented from Nina’s point of view, we often see Lily as a rival, as Nina fears Lily will take her part.  I think in reality that Lily is actually friendly and only wants to reach out to Nina but suffers her projection.  As the narrative moves toward the opening night of Swan Lake, Nina’s hallucinations become more vivid and violent.  There’s a significant amount of body horror in this film, even when simply focusing on the dancer’s ordinary performance where the camera focuses on the sights and sounds of the stress on their bodies.

The movie is no doubt a bit cheezy and cliched.  There are some plot points that seemed staged to increase the drama without being realistic (like, would a prima ballerina really be responsible for putting on her own makeup alone in a dressing room?). Nevertheless, Portman’s strong acting helps make the film better.  I’m also impressed by the camera work that follows Portman around when she’s on stage which really draws one into the performance.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “R” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous ”R” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Rape of Europa.

TitleRestless Creature: Wendy Whelan
Release Date: October 9, 2016
Director: Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger
Production Company: Abramorama

I don’t know much about ballet but it’s something I’m interested in learning more about. The subject of this documentary, Wendy Whelan, is considered one of the top dancers of generation during her 30 years with the New York City Ballet.  This film captures the end of those 30 years.

Whelan had remarkable durability, avoiding the injuries that plague many dancers until her mid-40s.  At the start of this film, she’s getting surgery on her hip injury and then beginning her recovery.  Her anxiety about being away from the stage is palpable, especially as rumors spread that she’s already retired.  Her physical therapist actually has to pull her out of a ballet class to keep her from aggravating her injury.  Whelan’s commitment to physical therapy and dance rehearsal show that she is definitely a “restless creature.”

But she is also a genuinely kind person, and her colleagues and friends think highly of her.  Part way through this film, Whelan comes to a decision.  First, she is going to perform in her final season with the New York City Ballet.  Second, she is going to transition into contemporary dance, with a tour called “Restless Creature” featuring four different dance performances choreographed by four differen male choreographers.  For her final performance at the New York City Ballet, she does a one-time performance of a number choreographed just for her.  The scenes of the performance are hair raising in their beauty.  Wendy Whelan gets to go out on her own terms and its perfect.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I’m in my mid-40s and I found this movie strangely relatable.  I mean, even when I was young I physically couldn’t do the things Whelan does, and in my own chosen field I should be able to continue into old age.  Still, there comes a realization in one’s 40s that you can’t physically do the thing you used to do, and it comes time to make decisions about how you want to go forward in your life.

I also found it interesting the distinction that Whelan makes between ballet and contemporary dance.  I mean to my novice eyes they look very similar, and a dancer like Whelan makes it look effortless despite energy exerted.  I’m glad that Whelan finds that contemporary dance is way for her to continue in a way that is more friendly to her injury.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The documentary Ballerina shows a different side of the ballet world, focusing on the young dancers in Russia’s highly competitive Kirov Ballet.

Source: Netflix

Rating: ****

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Book Review: The Ballet Lover by Barbara L. Baer 

Author: Barbara L. Baer 
TitleThe Ballet Lover
Publication Info: Open Books, 2017
Summary/Review: I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This novel begins in 1970 and tells the story of Geneva, a writer for a niche ballet magazine, set against a feud between the great dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova.  The cruelties and sexism of the ballet world are reflected in Geneva’s life as her publisher squashes her honest accounts to maintain access, her long distance boyfriend plans a future with little concern for Geneva’s interests, and she has to care for her aunt who survived an escape from Nazi Germany.  Geneva’s keen observational skills that make her a talented journalist also seem to be a handicap as she seems to often be observing rather than acting on her own life.  In addition to an interesting fictional narrative there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes segments in ballet drawn from real life. The one thing about the conclusion of the book is that Geneva’s problems aren’t really resolved so much as she grows older and doesn’t find them so important anymore, which I guess is real life, but much of an ending for fiction.

Recommended booksUnder the Net by Iris Murdoch and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Ballerina (2006)

Title: Ballerina
Release Date: 2006
Director: Bertrand Normand
This documentary documents a couple of years in the lives and careers of five women dancers in the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. These ballerinas – Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Ulyana Lopatkina, Alina Somova, &
Evgenia Obraztsova – are celebrities in ballet-crazed Russia. Each represents a different point in the career from a recently hired graduate of the grueling Vaganova Ballet Academy to a member of the corps de ballet getting her first solos to an experienced dancer venturing out to perform with companies abroad and a ballerina regaining her skills after being sidelined with a foot injury for two years. There are some creepy aspects to this movie such as young girls being selected for Vaganova simply on their body type and the dictatorial behavior of instructors and directors. The ballerinas are guarded in their interviews with one stating that she can only really express herself in her dance. So it is no surprise that the best parts of this documentary are the dance performances on stage, and even more so in rehearsal.

Rating: ***