Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Movie Review: The King's Speech

     The King's Speech is an historical drama chronicling the struggle of  King George VI of the United Kingdom to overcome his debilitating stammer. His stuttering affected even the simplest communications and most likely was a factor in his shyness. It became clear to Prince Albert, (impeccably portrayed by Colin Firth) or "Bertie" as he was called before his ascent to the throne, that as the health of his  father, King George V  deteriorated, he would be required to speak publicly.  He was to give athe closing address at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley which turned out to be a painful disaster for both speaker and audience, after which he stepped up his efforts to master his affliction.
     Prince Albert's wife, Queen Elizabeth I (Helena Bonham Carter) was loving and patient with Bertie and found the man who would, through his unorthodox therapeutic strategies, ultimately help the future king overcome his pronounced stammer. Lionel Logue was an Australian speech therapist who developed his techniques from helping veterans of The Great War (WW I) who developed stammers as a symptom of shell shock. He used a combination of modalities such as breathing, physical exercise, and a gentle, friend-like empowering psychotherapy.  The always delightful Geoffrey Rush plays Mr. Logue with just the right amount of reserved, uncomfortable quirkiness.
     Underscoring the storyline of the prince's stammer, we learn of his non-traditional ascendancy to the throne.  As the second son of the king, he was second in line behind his brother, Prince Edward.  Edward took the throne after his father's death, but didn't take it seriously and was more interested in marrying his paramour, the twice divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Since parliament would not allow the king to marry a divorcée and stay in power, Edward, after less than a year on the throne, abdicated.  Since Edward was childless the presumptive heir, his brother, Prince Albert ascended, taking the name George VI to provide a sense of continuity to the monarchy. The film also gives us a glimpse at Bertie's two daughters, Margaret and of course Elizabeth, who would assume the throne at his death and whom we know now as Queen Elizabeth II
     The story was compelling and the movie held my interest.  If nothing else, it caused me to read up on the real-life characters. (Hence the abundance of links in this review.)  Colin Firth deserves every accolade he is certain to receive during awards season.  The movie is well worth seeing, though perhaps not at theater prices.  I give it three stars.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Movie Review: Black Swan

        Black Swan is the psychological journey of Nina (Natalie Portman), a coy, reserved, young ballet dancer at her peak who struggles with being perfect in her art, growing-up and becoming a whole person separate from her overbearing, overprotective mother and from ballet itself, separate from her focused compulsion to achieve perfection and separate even from her own womanhood.  On her journey she learns that art occurs best in expressed passion which often causes technical imperfections and this fact maddens her on a deep level. She finds it painful to follow the urgings of her mentor, the choreographer (Vincent Cassell) of the ballet,  to let go of perfection in her technique in order to convey emotions of the character she is dancing.  He wants her to tap into her passion, her emotions and her repressed sexuality as she dances the dual roles of Swan Princess/Black Swan.  
        The Black Swan must seduce the object of the White Swan Princess' affections and steal him away from her ultimately leading to the White Swan's suicide. Nina's mother (Barbara Hershey), an overprotective former ballerina who never rose to her daughter's level of dance is dealing with her own madness as she lives vicariously through her 20-something daughter who she coddles, and treats like a child keeping her surrounded by stuffed animals and the bedroom decor of a preadolescent. This is the source of her personal and sexual repression. 
       Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), the street-smart newcomer to the ballet company who has exquisite passion in her dancing, but lacks the perfection in technique. Lily is irreverent and lives a full life.  Although she is devoted to ballet, she also enjoys the worldly pleasures of illicit drugs and sexual promiscuity. Nina is both drawn to and repulsed by Lily, but is mostly intrigued and envious.
       (It is worth mentioning that it was great to see Winona Ryder who was unrecognizable as the outgoing star of the ballet company who is a catalyst for some of Nina's madness.) 
       All of Nina's struggles culminate in an hallucinatory descent into madness becoming a living metaphor as it mirrors Swan Lake.  
       It was the multi-layer use of metaphor that I found most intriguing about this film.  Metaphors were everywhere and were artfully intertwined. Natalie Portman's work is going to be rightfully celebrated with multiple honors this awards season. 
       Black Swan gets 4 out of 5 stars from this nobody reviewer.