Demons of the Dance: I had heard that Darren Aronofsky’s psychological “thriller,” Black Swan, was an all-or-nothing proposition: either you loved it or hated it. It was a little of both for me. Some of Natalie Portman’s performance I loved; some not so much. As the (mentally) unbalanced ballerina Nina, she captures the rudiments of the visual vocabulary remarkably well for a non-dancer; the skinny silhouette is dead-on, and the beautiful face doesn’t hurt. And she is quite gripping in certain key scenes. (Still, the furrowed brow – and the sighing that seemed a supplemental soundtrack to the Tchaikovsky score – are distracting.)

She plays a girl/woman haunted by a duality of personality that echoes the White Swan/Black Swan roles in Swan Lake she is picked to perform by a demanding artistic director (Vincent Cassel), despite misgivings about her ability to portray the darker character. This launches an (inner) exploratory journey with descents into madness and gore that the hate-it crowd would cite as over the top. (Like Fatal Attraction, but the stalker here is the hidden side of Nina’s own self). Winona Ryder has a more or less cameo appearance as a fading ballerina, a reminder of what a shame that she’s had a dearth of parts since her shoplifting follies of several years ago, and I barely recognized Barbara Hershey, who plays Portman’s mother and frustrated former dancer (with a couple of screws loose herself).

I actually think Aronofsky was having some fun with all this, and if I’m not mistaken, I don’t remember another major theatrical film release dealing with the world of ballet since 1977’s The Turning Point. Maybe an unintentional by-product of this movie will be a renewed interest in the art, which has steadily declined over the past few years.

All Hail Colin Firth: The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, is in itself not terribly memorable, but one will long recall the king with the stammer, George VI, as a result of Firth’s performance. He should be a lock for the Oscar this year, and kudos also to Geoffrey Rush as the miracle (word) worker, and a sweet (and subdued) Helena Bonham Carter as the future, beloved Queen Mum.

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