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Notes from the Back Row

Bad-ass ballet



The last time I remember watching a ballet movie was in Grade 6, in 1987. My mom rented White Nights with Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov and I actually kind of got into it. Not so much because of the ballet but because, raised on flicks like Red Dawn and Rocky, I thought Russians were inherently badass, even Russian dancers. I also remember being stoked about the idea of defecting.

In any case, Black Swan - opening this week at the Village 8 - is the first ballet film I've seen since and while there is no defecting in this latest offer from Darren Aronofsky ( Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) he pretty much nails it otherwise. Mila Kunis? Check. Two female masturbation scenes? Double check. Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in a lesbian cunninglingus sequence? Here's my money, just give me the ticket.

That's cheap marketing but hype aside, Black Swan is really just a psychological horror movie, a creepy, bloody horror movie full of fear, paranoia, danger and hate. And hot damn if Tchaikovsky's music for the Swan Lake ballet doesn't make for a pulse-hammering film conclusion too.

Here's where the film school kids start talking about Doppelgangers and dark reflections of the self, but rather than ruin things let's just say that Winona Ryder homeruns a cameo as a batshit crazy chick, the swooshing steadi-cam shots feel almost too good to be true, the dialogue is snappy and the creepy factor suitably high. It's a slow-building psychological horror spin-kick to the eyeballs that's somehow also incredibly visceral.

Black Swan hints to some of the obsessive streaks in the world of ballet (eating food is out, finger down the throat is in) but it's more Fight Club than White Nights . Also, the actual dancing, of which there is quite a bit, is stunning.

It's colour-and-animal week I guess because The Green Hornet also screens this week. No pre-screenings for this one (always a bad sign) and the fact that it's a superhero flick coming out in mid-January also bodes poorly (usually a summer long weekend thing) but there is an outsider's sense that this is due to Hollywood just not understanding the flick. French director Michel Gondry ( Be Kind Rewind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is weird and has a childish sense of humour (sounds kind of perfect for a comic book movie) and The Green Hornet was written buy Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the Canadians who wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express).

Rogen stars in the billionaire-partyboy-turned hero role, Cameron Diaz is the girl, and Christoph Waltz (the creepy Jew hunter in Inglorious Basterds ) plays the villain but my guess is that everything will be just a little bit different than expected. Gondry is responsible for some of the coolest and most innovative music videos of the past 15 years ( White Stripes, Chemical Bros, Bjork , etc.) as well as some terribly underrated movies, so it's safe to assume he is not going to make a standard Hollywood superhero movie. Instead, expect something funny and slick with cutting edge camerawork and effects in the action scenes. Some "Kato-vision" segments released online looked pretty fresh and cool. This one is PG-13 but looks comic-booky enough to be worthwhile.

Also PG-13 is The Dilemma, starring Vince Vaughn and the (almost always crappy) Kevin James in a moral play about secrets and friendship, and what to do when you're pretty sure your buddy's woman is fooling around on him. (Hint - the answer is not, "get up in her while you have the chance.") This is directed by Ron Howard but looks stupid to me.

The King's Speech , another awards season fave from 2010, is also playing this week, while The Fighter stays for another week and is definitely worth checking out.