20 Nov
Madman Mundt and The Elf discuss all things Aronofsky

Madman Mundt and the Elf were guests at last week’s AFI Fest and attended the Los Angeles premier of Black Swan. This is their collaborative review. Black Swan is out in the US on December 1st.

The Elf:
I’m a sucker for a dance movie. Ballet specifically. Whether it’s Fame, Flashdance, Center Stage (starring a very young Zoe Saldana and some chick who just surprised me with a bit part on Mad Men this season), White Nights (that one had tap AND ballet!) or The Turning Point, I’m there with bells on. I’ve always loved the pain and struggle and sweat and bunions and dedication of ballet dancers. It’s so damn inspiring. I love seeing them break in their toe shoes, grind them in the resin, and pull off their shoes at the end of the day to find cuts and bruises and all kinds of hardcore stuff going on inside those deceptively prissy pink satin slippers. So despite all the praise surrounding Black Swan, I knew that even if it actually sucked, it involved ballet so at least there’d be that. Madman Mundt took me to the LA premier of Black Swan last week and I can safely say it does not suck. I’m a little wary of lavishing too much praise on films in general because I know the danger of over-hyping something, but I’m pretty sure Aronofsky’s movie would make Hitchcock proud. Or jealous.

Madman Mundt:
Well I’m glad you’re being so leveled about praising the movie, because I have no problem “over-hyping” this film. The reason being because it is the best movie I’ve seen in years, it is Aronofsky’s best work to date, and I think his efforts deserve to be lauded. As good as Pi, The Wrestler and Requiem For a Dream were, they were notably flawed; I feel like Black Swan is the work of a director finally hitting his artistic stride, connecting all the previous loose points of brilliance into one dynamic flashpoint. He’s always been a virtuoso in playing with tension, even with subjects which you wouldn’t imagine could be so riveting — I mean Pi was, after all, about a mathematical constant. So the fact that he could make a compelling film about ballet shouldn’t surprise me…but that he could energize it with more electricity than a 3rd rail was stunning. Most men aren’t as jazzed up about “dance” movies as you Elf and I had my doubts, but when the film got going it was…terrifying. At points, I was as anxious as I’ve been in the best psychological horror movie, and there were at least 5 times that I distinctly remember full-on chills crawling up my spine. Not only chills from fear, but chills from realizing I was witnessing an artist, Aronofsky, at the top of his game — I mean, he even pulled out a great performance out of Mila Kunis; that ain’t easy. It reminded me of watching Michael Jordan in the 90s, when in the first 5 minutes of a game you knew he was about to do something incredible, and he ended up dropping 60 points on some hapless team. That’s how I felt watching Black Swan.

Hit the Jump to continue reading He Said/She Said review of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan

The Elf:
I guess I take it for granted that most men don’t necessarily find ballet riveting and physical and brutal, like it is. And I like the Michael Jordan comparison Mundt. Still, I’m wary to over praise a film like this because I think about the folks out there who are being subjected to crazy marketing and glowing praise from fools like us, when those people may be better served just seeing the damn movie. I don’t want to get their hopes up. In the case of Black Swan though, I guess it’s a safe gamble that getting hopes up is A-OK. Can we talk about the fact that Vincent Cassell flirted with me? That makes me feel good, and it may divert people’s attention? If not, I’ll say between The Wrestler and Black Swan, this dude really stuns me. Requiem For a Dream is ridiculously awesome, The Fountain was very pretty masturbation, and The Wrestler (my fave movie of that year) and Black Swan are actually really similar, in a strange way. They’re both about sacrificing and throwing it all on the line for what you love, whether that’s dying your hair with cheap drug store bleach and cutting yourself with razors in a ring or daintily placing your hair in a bun, donning diamond earrings and twirling on a fancy stage. The amazing thing is, he’s made ballet so much more brutal than wrestling.

Madman Mundt:
Great point about the themes of The Wrestler and Black Swan, but I think it goes further with Black Swan. While both showed determination and courage in the face of overwhelming (and in The Wrestler’s case, pathetic) odds — Black Swan is about ambition, an obsessive ambition taken to terminal lengths. Black Swan is basically Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, except instead of Gregor Samsa’s transformation being caused by a deep need to care for his family, Nina’s transformation stems from a blind, all consuming, ego-fueled ambition. And if we’re gonna talk about Vincent Cassell flirting with you (which I can confirm indeed occurred), then can we talk about Natalie Portman for a second? She’s absolutely exquisite in this film, in every sense of the word. I don’t think there’s another actress alive who could’ve played Nina; the role is almost custom tailored to her. Portman has an elegance and classic silverscreen beauty that is singular in today’s Hollywood, and that’s what it takes to play this role. And I’m no ballet expert, but her physical dancing ability is worth mentioning — to emulate a skill that people train their whole lives for with that poise is remarkable. Certainly some actors like Scarlett Johansson or Angelina Jolie may be “sexier” than Portman, but none have her grace. And that’s what it takes to play this role: grace in movement, and grace in character. She plays the role of the White Swan to perfection — weak and fraught and painfully self-conscious — and her struggle to become more is what drives the film. Like I said about Aronofsky hitting his artistic stride, I feel like this is Portman hitting her stride — it’s her grand performance to date. Doesn’t it seem like we’ve all been waiting for her to realize her potential? She’s been good in almost everything (Star Wars excluded), but the films themselves haven’t been extraordinary. You knew she had some superstar performance in her in a film that truly mattered, and I think this is it.

The Elf:
Putting ScarJo and Natalie Portman in the same sentence makes me a little uncomfortable, since one of them can actually act and the other, well… I agree this is Miss Natalie hitting her stride. I think she was amazing when she was little (The Professional, Beautiful Girls) then she started doing a bunch of roles where she bopped around and acted like the oh-so-quirky girl (Hello, Garden State) but this role brings it all full circle. She’s incredibly gorgeous, she can act, and now she’s written a romantic comedy script. Hell, I’d marry her. Besides her performance the reason Black Swan has me so excited is that it reminds me of my absolute favorite period in film: Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yeah, I know France in the 60s, Italy in the 40s were awesome and all, but you really can’t touch The Shining, Midnight Cowboy, Cool Hand Luke and The Exorcist. Gritty, ballsy, and raw movies that also happened to be entertaining as hell. Hollywood is so chicken these days that gritty and entertaining rarely go together in the minds of the powers that be (I slept just fine after Paranormal Activity, thank you very much). There’s a lot of Carrie in Black Swan too. I would love to see this open the door for more psychological horror that doesn’t involve gimmicks. And horror that actually freaks me out. Not Saw horror. The Exorcist horror. This is very much a 1970s movie, and I love that about it.

Madman Mundt:
Yeah, what ever happened with films being smart, raw and entertaining at the same time? I think people really underestimate the intelligence of filmgoers — Dark Knight, No Country for Old Men, City of God, Inception, Memento, There Will Be Blood, The Departed, Fight Club, Children of Men, Let the Right One In — these are all intelligent, gritty as hell movies that came out in the last decade that were all as entertaining as movies can legally be. Some made boatloads of money and some were cult hits, but all had a profound impact on the Hollywood landscape. And Black Swan belongs to be mentioned alongside the shortlist of excellence above. I agree on not over-hyping things up, so I hope people go to see the movie without sky-high expectations. But most importantly, I just hope they go see this movie — it’s clear Hollywood listens to dollars, and we need more of these films.

Special thanks to AFI Fest for inviting Lost In a Supermarket

No Responses to “Black Swan Review: He Said/She Said”

  1. cindy says:

    I really, for the first time in years look forward to going to a movie!!

Leave a Reply