Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder.
THE PLOT: Cassel’s tough love ballet director Thomas Leroy is determined to bring out the black swan in virginal white swan Nina Sayers (Portman) for his new production of Swan Lake.
Directing through exhaustion and humiliation – and plenty of sexual harassment – Leroy soon sends his leading dancer’s insecurities escalating. And the uncertainties keep mounting, Nina convinced that the free-wheelin’ new arrival Lily (the future queen of Hollywood, Mila Kunis) is plotting to steal the spotlight. It doesn’t help that Lily is everything Nina is not, the tattooed, partying yin to her still-lives-at-home-with-mommie-dearest yang. Which may explain all the hallucinations. And the self-harm. And all the blood.
THE VERDICT: Akin to Fight Club For Girls, Black Swan is a near-two-hour mental breakdown. With pirouettes. It’s no wonder Portman won the Golden Globe.
It’s S&M, with tutus, compared heavily to the Scorsese favourite Red Shoes (a film Aronofsky actually hadn’t watched until late into production here). In truth, this is more Polanski than Powell and Pressburger. And, like the 84N bus home, it’s an uncompromising, heart-twisting, head-wreckingly bad trip. RATING: ***
Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson.
THE PLOT: Having hit rock bottom, and in danger of being cancelled, breakfast TV offering Daybreak takes a gamble on hiring young workaholic Becky Fuller (McAdams) to try and steer the show away from the iceberg. Recognising almost immediately that long-serving co-anchor Colleen Peck (Keaton) has been playing cuckoo in the nest by constantly driving every new co-host barmy, and away, Colleen decides to force Pulitzer Prize-winning, hard-hitting newsman Mike Pomeroy (Ford) out of semi-retirement – or he’ll have to walk away from his high-paying contract.
THE VERDICT: A sharp comedy set amidst the chirpy, chirpy, cheap cheep world of breakfast television,
Ford and McAdams (one of cinema’s smarter pretty young things) are wonderful here, the comic sparks between the duo recalling the classic screwballs comedies of the 1930s. And if today’s great battle between real news and fluffy kittens on stilts is ultimately avoided here (thanks to a group hug ending that reads entirely false), there is a lot of well-aimed fun to be found in Morning Glory. RATING: ***
Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum.
THE PLOT: The lifelong buddy-dom of Ronny (Vaughn) and Nick (James) is put into something of a spin when the former spots the latter’s wife (Ryder) locking lips with a stud muffin (Tatum). About to walk down the aisle himself (with Connelly’s Beth), Ronny has the sanctity of marriage swirling around his head. And therefore feels he must reveal all to his best friend. Vaughn covered this terrain far, far better in The Break-Up…
THE VERDICT: What the hell has happened to Vince Vaughn? Somehow, he’s gone from making big and small smart movies (Swingers, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, Dodgeball) to making, for a while, both smart and dumb movies (Breaking Up, Be Cool, Wedding Crashers, Blackball) to solely making just big, dumb movies (in the last three years, Fred Claus, Four Christmases, Couples Retreat, and now, this sorry crock of crap). Someone should take him to a field and slap him about the head and face. Hard. RATING: *
Directed by Peter Mullan. Starring Conor McCarron, Gregg Forrest, Joe Szula, Mhairi Anderson, Gary Milligan, John Joe Hay.
THE PLOT: It’s Glasgow, 1972, and primary school poster boy John McGill (McCarron) is determined to prove his secondary school principal’s prejudices against him. Not easy, considering his older brother has been expelled, dad’s a violent alcoholic, and mum’s suitably browbeaten. And it doesn’t take long for John to realise that it’s incredibly hard to be a saint in the city. Especially when that city is Glasgow. In 1972. And you’re a working class Catholic.
THE VERDICT: It’s Lord Of The McFlys, or maybe This Is Glasgow, as the brute cruelty of youth is explored in Peter Mullan’s hard-hitting but touching film, the respected Scottish actor’s third as director, after Orphans (1997) and The Magdalene Sisters (2002). Mullan manages to mix Loach with Bunuel here, his heady mix held together by naturalistic performances from his non-professional younger cast. A marvel. The title, incidentally, is an acronym for Non-Educated Delinquents. RATING: ****
Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca.
THE PLOT: Finding herself in a psychiatric lock-up after burning down a farmhouse, Kristen (Heard) suffers both from flashbacks to a basement hell, and has to contend with the fact that, one by one, her four fellow nuthouse inmates are disappearing.
THE VERDICT: The legendary John Carpenter (Halloween, Assault On Precinct 13) returns to the big screen after a nine-year absence with this short, sharp slice of schlock horror. Unfortunately, the script (by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) is a little too schlocky, Carpenter’s presence felt only in the occasional visual flourish. RATING: **
CHINA IN YOUR HANDS
A new addition to the Chinese New Year Festival in Dublin, the wittily-named Chinese Film Festival will run from Feb 4th until the 13th.
Amidst the European and world premieres are Stephen Shin’s Blood Oath (headlined by Gong Li), Xiaogang Feng’s Aftershock and Quan’an Wang’s Apart Together. There will also be a selection of Chinese documentaries and animation to help mark The Year Of The Rabbit.
Full details on dublincity/cny.
IT’S TRAD, DAD!
To mark TradFest 2011, over two days at the end of this month, the IFI will be playing host to two programmes of trad music films.
The Irish Film Archives have once again been raided, with a series of documentaries from the 1960s and ‘70s on offer, whilst those ambience chasers Clannad are put under the microscope in a new documentary, Clann as Dobhar, by Cathal Watter. The band will be taking part in a Q&A after the screening.
From Germany comes Margit Wagner’s Irland: Lieder Fur Tramer, Musik Fur Rebellen, filmed largely in Howth’s Abbey Tavern in the late 1960s, whilst in The Pilgrimage Of Ti Jean, the French-Canadian master fiddle travels to Ireland to track down the music of his lifelong idol, Sligo-born fiddler Michael Coleman. At 1pm on Jan 29th you can catch the Clannad doc, whilst the archival documentaries are on at the same time on Jan 30th. Full details on ifi.ie.