Posts Tagged 'natalie portman'

Thor (3D)

Crazy graphics, a beautiful male lead and gloriously naff humour are the attractions in this amusement park of a movie. If you’re a certain shade of pale or partial to popcorn, then this should be a Thor thing. The oak-carved body of Chris Hemsworth plays the titular hero, complete with Gucci stubble and Aryan eyes. He doesn’t really have to do much apart from stand around looking “pretty cut”, as one character admiring his torso has it.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor: "pretty cut"

This is another entry in the Marvel universe, based on comics themselves based on Scandinavian mythology. I’m sure that as the franchises weave their Marvel web, we’ll soon be seeing the likes of ‘When Hulk met Spidey’, ‘Sleepless in Krypton’, ‘Batman & Superman Escape from Guantanamo Bay’ and ‘There’s Something About Magneto’ in our cinemas.

The plot revolves around a power struggle between two brothers: Thor and the wily Loki (Hiddleston). They are immortals inhabiting the celestial kingdom of Asgard, ruled by their wise father Odin (the masterly Hopkins doing his Shakespearean thang). The only person trying to inject any depth to this formula, Hiddleston does well to project a character having difficulty reconciling insane ambition and tender longing for his father’s recognition.

The Asgardians’ sworn enemies are the Frost Giants, 12-footers capable of not going to the fridge for their ice cubes. When they intrude on Thor’s crowning ceremony, the headstrong God heads to Jotunheim, their icy realm, to demand answers for breaking their truce. Wielding the mighty Mjolnir – a superpowered hammer – Thor and his friends do well but are quickly outnumbered. Odin comes to bring them back but decides his arrogant son is not yet fit for kingship and casts his son to exile on Earth where he bumps into scientist Jane Foster (Portman).

This episode provides much of the laughs as the mortal Thor struts around still believing he’s a Norse superbeing. Portman’s role as love interest barely registers as a character and the Earth-bound scenes sometimes plods along prosaically compared to the rainbow-coloured trip that is Asgard. Searching for his hammer, Thor battles a range of goons from S.H.I.E.L.D, the extra-governmental agency present in the Marvel comics, who are investigating it – but cannot pull it from the ground Excalibur-style as

he first needs a lesson in humility. This comes when an iron machine sent by Loki arrives to tear things up a bit.

The golden city of Asgard. Earth is 'Midgard' in the film's galaxy of nine realms.

Shot in above-average 3D, it’s an enjoyable romp, straightforward and a touch by-the-numbers. Stellan Skarsgard is barely awake as Portman’s professorial mentor. Kat Dennings as her assistant adds some much-needed wisecrack, while Idris Elba as gatekeeper God Heimdall delighted with his deeply sonorous voice. It’s hard to imagine this being anything other than a Star Wars-influenced, FX-laden epic but perhaps director Kenneth Branagh, famed for his Shakespeare films, could have brought intimacy and intrigue to the relationships rather than the simple signage of cheesy love and obvious transformation. Even Spiderman had more ambivalence.

This review is in vain; my friend with whom I watched Thor had it perfectly: “one quarter comic book adaptation blockbuster, one quarter 70s inspired, psychedelic discotheque light show, one quarter Kenneth Branagh-helmed Norse myth re-work, one quarter CHRIS HEMSWORTH’S BUNS”.


  1. Thor 3D
  2. Production year: 2011
  3. Country: USA
  4. Cert (UK): 12A
  5. Runtime: 114 mins
  6. Directors: Kenneth Branagh
  7. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Natalie Portman, Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston


Black Swan

Natalie Portman as the black swan

“Natalie Portman plays a psychotic ballet dancer who turns into a lesbian?”

“Yeah, and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while”.

This was how Black Swan was sold to me by a friend. It’s an engrossing and vivid film, flawed by the hyperactive tendencies of its director Darren Aronofsky.

Portman plays Nina Sayers, a dancer situated in New York but who lives entirely in her ballet world. Nina’s devotion stands out, even in an art where every sinew is forced to bear the weight of unnatural grace. She battles for the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake, which will be “visceral and real” according to its choreographer Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell).

He needs someone who can embody both swans, white and black, and Nina struggles to portray the salacious nature of the black swan. Her competitor is Lily, a seductive schemer, played by Mila Kunis, whose sashaying eyes are all that’s needed to imply her darkly allure.

Nina’s sanity is shown to be slipping early on but what started it? Possibly her possessive mother who herself was a dancer, but of lesser talent. She salves her daughter’s wounds and helps her undress in the bathroom. She’s definitely crazy but not mad.

Aronofsky uses the idea of the doppelganger as the motif of madness. Mirrors are everywhere and in their reflection we begin to see the schizoid panic of Nina. Portman’s beauty acts to her advantage in Black Swan, where her girlish, small-chin features look all too prone to cracking under strain.

Wincing injuries to fingers and toes are a physical sign of Nina’s mental degradation as she fixates on perfecting her dance. She worships ballet and it becomes her undoing. Cassell is perfectly cast as the demanding maestro, who implores Nina to ‘touch herself’ to prepare for her role – and to lose her innocence along the way, preferably with him.

She also has to watch out for Lily, presented as funky and free, but who actually acts like any normal adolescent. She befriends Nina and takes her clubbing which leads to an outburst of rebellion and lesbianism. Black Swan is about repression, hatred, perfection and jealousy. Nina’s old enough to go clubbing but her room is filled with cuddly toys. Her mother is oppressive and it’s small wonder that Nina self-harms and her ‘evil twin’ is dying to break out.

The jittery camera work, by Matthew Libatique, conveys a shivering claustrophobia. The grainy texture of the film with its muted colours, have the atmosphere of horror, and the lighting impresses, especially on stage where Nina’s final transformation into the black swan is quite spectacular.

The set designs, the similarity in looks between the leading ladies all serve to bolster the film’s notion of duality. But the use of music grates. Aronofsky has done psychotic breakdowns before, in his debut feature Pi, and in the drug-addled Requiem for a Dream. In that film, fevers boiled in searing music and sweaty editing. But the incessant classical score which emphasises every dramatic beat in every scene of Black Swan is fucking annoying.

The sensual ambition of Black Swan and the camera’s looming view of Nina, her fevered obsession and anxiety over perfection propel this film, while the dark edges of madness provide a captivating portrait of denied adulthood. ‘Lose yourself’ is Leroy’s advice, and the black swan manages to seduce.


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