Monday, December 6, 2010

The BC Review: Burlesque

Despite the abundance of criticism this film is receiving, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I shared with my fellow movie-goers when checking out the new musical; Burlesque.

Not placing too much emphasis on the details (who really needs quality dialogue anyway?) the Christina Aguilera/Cher-helmed musical Burlesque is an entertaining array of glitz, glamour, seduction, stage theatrics, and above all - the astounding vocals of Ms. Aguilera!

Admittedly, before catching Aguilera on the big screen, I had a few of her bigger top 40 hits on my iPod (Fighter and Genie in a Bottle to name a couple), but following the film I have a funny feeling I will be increasing my Aguilera intake. I believe I am now a fan of the blond diva!

Our first glimpse of Aguilera, playing the role of Ali, is of her working in a dive diner in her mid-west hometown. Fed up with the trappings of small-town life, Ali sets off for the big city - Los Angeles - but not without belting out a killer rendition of the great, Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold On Me". From here we are hooked. Throughout the film Aguilera's Ali takes to the stage in a LA retro-Burlesque club, chimmying and belting out one hit after another (as well as a few originals).

In addition to Aguilera, we are treated to the talented vocal stylings, red lips, and legs that seem to go on forever, of one of the most famous divas of them all, Cher. It seems the inclusion of Cher to the Burlesque cast was likely an attempt to draw some "star power" to the film. But it really wasn't needed. Of course, Cher is fun to gaze at and she lends her voice to the flick in two notable numbers, but her presence seems forced. In this reviewer's opinion, Burlesque embodies enough pizazz without the additional swagger Cher brings to the stage.

Stanley Tucci and Kristin Bell lend their talents to the film as well. Tucci playing a familiar role as the unlucky in love assistant/best friend to Cher (think Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada). But Bell steps out of her comfort zone, taking on the villainous Nikki who will stop at nothing to halt Ali's ascension to the Burlesque spotlight.

Burlesque will fulfil the guilty pleasure in us all - lots of sparkle, even more lip gloss, and tons of toe-tapping music.

The Bee Charmer Review rating: B-

Watch the Trailer here:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The BC Review: Black Swan

Perhaps one of the flicks I was most excited about seeing this year, Natalie Portman's Black Swan, was none other than an ultimately thrilling, and very dark portrait of a prima ballerina plummeting her way down her own personal rabbit hole.

In case you haven't heard about this one, don't worry - you are not alone. Black Swan is in limited release, largely circulating among the "Indie" crowd. Honestly, I'm not sure why - it seems the film has enough twists and turns (literal and figurative) to please most audiences.

Black Swan is the story of Nina Sayers (played by Natalie Portman) a prima ballerina in NYC competing for the coveted role of the Swan Queen in the ballet classic "Swan Lake". Upon attaining that goal, she finds herself coming apart at the seems, physically and emotionally. And this is where it gets really good. The film mirrors the story of Swan lake, the story of a princess who is turned into a swan (the White Swan) by a spell. The spell can only be broken by her true love. But of course, there's a twist, her prince is seduced by her evil twin (the Black Swan) and upon learning of this, the White Swan realizes she can only be free in death and thus commits suicide.

I won't spoil the film for you, but suffice it to say - Nina begins to connect with both the White Swan and the Black Swan and must find a way to live both sides of her personality. The genius of the film hinges on this point, Nina's duality - both good and evil - co-existing within one person. The director really takes this to a whole new level as we see Nina battling her own psyche (sometimes in some shocking scenes) and interestingly developing the physical characteristics of the swan.

Natalie Portman (best known for The Professional, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Closer) is one of Hollywood's best kept secrets. Her roles tend to be far and few between, but when she makes an appearance she jumps head first into her role! Her role as Nina Sayers is no different; Portman purportedly studied ballet for a year in preparation for the role (both body and mind) and lost over 20 pounds (a sizable amount of weight for the petite actress). Not that I want to focus on the weight loss so much, of course, it definitely shows, but it is the way she transforms into Nina -vulnerable, fearful, striving for perfection to the point of physical and mental anguish.

A lesser known actress, Mila Kunis (catch her in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Date Night, and the voice of "Meg" in Family Guy) plays Lily - Nina's sometimes friend, sometimes nemesis. Lily is everything Nina is not; sexy, natural, and uninhibited, making for a formidable rival to the virginal Nina. Not surprisingly, Nina starts to believe her worst fear - Lily will take the Swan Queen role from her; ultimately replacing her. I think each of us can connect with this idea - someone wanting to replace you - your dreams, your accomplishments, your life... it's a scary prospect.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Barbara Hershey's visceral role as Erica Sayers, Nina's mother. Erica is tense to the point of horrifying, desperately trying to protect her daughter, while at the same time mourning for her own long-lost ballet career. Adorned all in black, with her hair tied securely in a bun, Erica represents the "what could happen" scenario for Nina; falling out of the spotlight and plummeting into darkness.

As I mentioned, due to its limited release you may have to dig a little deeper than usual to find a listing near you (but, believe me, it'll be worth it). Black Swan comes recommended for thriller fans seeking an out-of-the-ordinary flick with a talent for both beauty and the grotesque!

The Bee Charmer Review rating: A-