Saturday, December 25, 2010

Weekk of Dec. 24 to Dec. 30 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Darren Aronofsky, director of the current BLACK SWAN and last year’s award-winning The Wrestler says the two films are “companion pieces… ballet and wrestling: the highest art and the lowest art. Both performers… use their bodies to express their souls.”

But where Mickey Rourke in the wrestler was a battered, over-the-hill has-been, Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers is an upcoming young star, as fresh and seemingly innocent as he was stale and world-weary. She lives with her mother – a former dancer, who treats her as a child – and has no life but the ballet. All she, and her mother, want is for her to become the prima ballerina.

We quickly learn that she has the talent and the technique to be great, and the ability to dance the role of the White Swan in Swan Lake, a part that calls for purity and vulnerability. The only question is whether she can deliver on the Black Swan part, that of a dark, sinister and seductive temptress.

The pressures on her are enormous: from her mother, from the harsh male director of the company, from her predecessor as lead dancer, and from her alternate and rival. And, not least, from herself, as she pursues perfection and struggles with delusions that take the film from reality to inner visions. The movie is about ballet. Even if you’re not a dance fan – and I’m not -- it’s fascinating to be backstage. But the movie is also about derangement, a cinematic depiction of the onset of schizophrenia, adding an almost horror-film tension as we watch Nina veer from one pole to the other of her personality.

The result is a visual and emotional experience that will captivate you, and leave you drained. Be prepared.

THE KING’S SPEECH (which opens Christmas Day) deals with a different kind of human frailty. Prince Albert is the younger brother of Prince Edward, the heir-apparent to the throne. Suffering from a terrible stutter, “Bertie” is unlikely King material, but Edward’s abdication thrusts the role upon him, just as the Nazi war machine is gobbling up Europe and lusting toward England. The “speech” of the title is one that he – now King George VI -- must give to his nation, and the world, as England declares war on Germany. Talk about pressure!

The King’s Speech is gathering accolades, including seven Golden Globe nominations. It has already swept the British Independent Film Awards, winning not only Best Picture, but also Best Actor awards for its lead (Colin Firth as the King) and both supporting actors (Geoffrey Rush as his speech coach and Helena Bonham Carter as his wife and Queen). Despite the earth-shattering events swirling around it, the movie is really about these three and how the steadfast support of his tutor and wife enabled the King to win the day. “It's a warm, richly funny and highly enjoyable human story… a picture full of old-fashioned audience satisfaction.” (

Joining these two blockbusters are the equally acclaimed THE FIGHTER (held over; see last week’s column for more) and the wonderfully different HOWL, a kind of biography of a poem. With James Franco as Alan Ginsberg (that’s a stretch), Jon Hamm as a “suit” (no stretch there) and a cast that includes David Strathairn, Bob Balaban, Jeff Daniels and Treat Willams, it’s an actors’ tribute to a seminal work of art. “It takes a familiar, celebrated piece of writing and makes it come alive.” (New York Times)

Spend some time with your family over the holidays for sure, but why not share the Tropic with them, like four times for four treats. Enjoy.

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[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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