Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

March 4, 2011

His majesty’s voice

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:09 pm

March 04, 2011

Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce

Director: Tom Hooper

Watching a full-length feature film about King George VI’s speech impediment may not seem like the most exciting thing to do on a Friday evening. But thanks to an insightful script that focuses on the relationship between the monarch and his unorthodox speech therapist, this seemingly dry subject makes for an inspiring movie experience.

The King’s Speech opens with a terrific scene in which Colin Firth brings humanity and frustration to the part of the stammering Duke of York, Albert, as he struggles to deliver a public address at Wembley, much to the embarrassment of his people, and the sympathy of his wife Elizabeth (played by the superb Helena Bonham Carter).  Not long after the death of his father, when his older brother Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne in order to marry an American divorcee, Albert must find his voice as he steps up to become King.

Geoffrey Rush stars as the eccentric Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, whose relationship with the King is not unlike that of Mr Miyagi and Daniel-san in The Karate Kid. Using strange techniques that include blurting out a string of cuss words, Logue helps the monarch deal with his debilitating stammer, and their fiery friendship ultimately forms the heart of this movie.

Taking a predictable, formulaic route to tell a feel-good, rousing story, The King’s Speech feels ‘safer’ than many of the other Best Picture nominees that it beat out at the Academy Awards last week. Yet, it redeems itself with two riveting performances that are hard to get out of your head. Firth, who won the Oscar for Best Actor, literally disappears into the role. He plays the character as a real person, who just happens to be a king, and he is comical and unnerving and desperate all at once. Rush, meanwhile, as the therapist who isn’t intimidated by the arrival of royalty on his doorstep, is cheeky and irreverent, and he shines in those scenes in which he riles the helpless king.

Dramatically filmed and proudly wearing a badge of self-importance, The King’s Speech is one of the most sumptuous films you’ll see. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The King’s Speech. A fine film, but not my favorite of the ten nominated for Best Picture this year.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dancer in the dark

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:58 pm

March 04, 2011

Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Black Swan is a visually stunning and disturbing melodrama that’s been alternatively described as a dark psychological thriller, and a campy horror film. Set in the punishing world of ballet, where stardom is perhaps at its most fleeting, Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, an aspiring lead with a New York dance company, who’s determined to land the coveted part of the Swan Queen in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. The company director (played by Vincent Cassel) thinks Nina is perfectly suited to play the virginal White Swan, but isn’t so sure if the shy, repressed dancer has what it takes to play the Black Swan, her sexually charged evil twin.

He asks Nina to find her darker, more sensual side, and also instructs her to observe the company’s new ballerina, the free-spirited Lily (played by Mila Kunis), whom he appoints as Nina’s understudy for the big role. Lily offers Nina her friendship and more, and pretty soon Nina is convinced Lily wants to steal her role. Haunted by her own reflection in the mirror, and troubled over a feather-like skin-rash she seems to have acquired, Nina becomes increasingly anxious with every passing day.

The movie goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, depicting various events that may or may not be figments of Nina’s imagination. Challenged to tap into her dark side, Nina becomes increasingly lost in a waking nightmare of all her fears and neuroses, and much of the film’s final act involves piecing together this jigsaw puzzle of reality and illusion.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan is strangely fascinating and wildly unpredictable, and like his last film The Wrestler, the protagonist here suffers intense pain in order to please an audience. Natalie Portman offers a committed, mesmerizing performance as the tortured artist, and it’s hardly surprising that her showy, bloated turn won her an Oscar.

Refreshingly original and stunningly photographed, the film’s last ten minutes, in particular, will give you gooseflesh. I’m going with four out of five for Black Swan. It’s a haunting piece of cinema that stays with you.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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