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Movie Review Monday: Black Swan



Pop Contributor Mike Finkelstein has a dark side to him…and that’s why he’s bringing you his review of “Black Swan”

PLOT: A young repressed ballerina (Natalie Portman) gets cast as the Swan Queen in her company’s new version of “Swan Lake”.  But when she is tested by her overwhelming controlling mother (Barbara Hershey), her respected director’s (Vincent Cassel) sexual advances, and a new dancer’s (Mila Kunis) threats to take her role, her world begins to unravel, and a dark side begins to emerge. 

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: BLACK SWAN has been getting amazing feedback over the past few months from both critics and regular audiences…a rare feat for a completely original artsy film in an age of remakes and superhero adaptations galore.  Yet does it really live up to its praise and all the awards?

I have never felt so uncomfortable in a movie from the first frame to the last.  Whatever you think this movie is about, throw it out the window because you have no idea.  Darren Aronofsky has created yet another masterpiece that will make you squirm in your seat, not unlike REQUIEM FOR A DREAM did for audiences a decade ago.  Here, we have a character study of a young woman’s struggle for perfection.  She needs to be constantly faultless and tightly wound for both herself and her family, but at the same time, she wants to break free to satisfy herself and her needs.  And with such an internal conflict, the only road is to one hell of a breaking point.

The interesting thing about BLACK SWAN is the fact that even after weeks of release and all the buzz, still the only real things that people know about before they go in is that Natalie Portman does an amazing job, and there’s a lesbian sex scene.  I beg you, if you want the full effect of this film, go in without knowing anything more.  Yes, you have a slight idea that Portman does a good job and is winning all these awards.  What you don’t know is that she is going to levels she never has before.  This girl is in touch with every emotion she possesses and runs the gauntlet.  Mix that with her eerily thin frame, which makes you think that any wrong move or words could break her like a twig, and you have a girl that bothers you for reasons you can’t explain.   As for that lesbian sex scene that everyone is talking about as so hot…if you want an idea of how disturbing the film is, when I say that I was uncomfortable from the first frame to the last, that includes the sex scene as well. 

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.  Aronofsky has done a startling job directing this film, which seems to fall right in between the aforementioned REQUIEM and THE WRESTLER.  You have a complete character study with a main character that you follow continuously for 108 minutes.  Nina’s in every scene, and there are the same familiar tracking shots following her around the ballroom and her apartment as there are following Randy to the ring.  Yet, at the same time, there are so many moments of cracking, mind games, and misinterpretation that some cuts feel more like something Jennifer Connelly or Marlon Wayans went through during their hallucinations.  The crazy back and forth doesn’t help you settle into your movie-going experience, but you are completely enthralled throughout. 

A little side note…the way the film is being marketed, It seems like more in the thriller/suspense genre.  Yet when walking out, I caught myself saying that it was one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time.  Maybe it’s because it wasn’t trying to be a real horror film, but it was so refreshing to be on the edge of my seat and creeped out in a smarter way than just by the gruesome SAW-type kills that are now so common.  BLACK SWAN is like something a darker Hitchcock would do, and I liked being brought back to something smart and scary at the same time.

All these feelings couldn’t be possible, though, without the supporting cast: Vincent Cassel as Portman’s sexually charged director, Mila Kunis as her rival (and technically, closest friend), and Barbara Hershey as her obsessive and controlling mother.  These three actors put their characters in places where they’re sweet and caring in one moment, and evil and manipulative the next.  You don’t know what to expect, and by the end, you realize that you don’t know what is real either, and that’s how it should be.   

This may be one of my shortest reviews, but I was serious when I said that you need to go into BLACK SWAN knowing absolutely nothing.  Even what I said already was probably too much.  Aronofsky has done an incredible job making a movie that will shake you and make you talk and analyze it for days.  The way it is advertised, you go in expecting a thriller of some sort, and instead, you get something that could be put on par with the creepiest Stephen King.  And mark my words: this time next year, Natalie Portman will be billed as an Oscar winner.  Go see BLACK SWAN, and get ready for the many following conversations. 


Mike’s LIKES:
1) NATALIE PORTMAN: Portman has done something here that she has never done before.  There are so many layers to Nina Sayers, and Portman hits every innocent emotion and every non-so-innocent one.  This is her movie.  Mark my words: She WILL win the Best Actress Oscar.

2) MIND MISLEADING: My friends and I literally spent days discussing this film, and we came to the conclusion that with all the interpretations we came up with, every single one of them could be true or false.  When you have that many aspects of a movie that could be debated intelligently, you know you did something right.

3) PAINTINGS: The freakiest part of the entire movie, for so many reasons

4) WYNONA RYDER: She seemed to come out of nowhere when you first saw her, but with the role of the former prima ballerina, Ryder shows she still has the chops and can do some damage in serious roles. 

5) THE MIRROR: Watch out for a very specific, very interesting shot involving Portman and Kunis when they come back into the apartment from their night out. 

1) BLOOD SEEPAGE: This is me trying to find a dislike, and I guess it’s the closest I could get.  I had to suspend disbelief just a tad with how nothing could happen with a certain injury for so long, and then in one minute it all comes out, but it’s only a minor setback that many won’t even think of. 

1) Due to a twisted rib injury, Natalie Portman had to receive physical therapy during filming. According to Darren Aronofsky, Portman is actually undergoing a real physical therapy session in one scene with a real physical therapist.

2) The budget on this film was supposedly ridiculously tight.  When Natalie Portman dislocated a rib during a lift, she was told the budget was so low that there was no medic on set. Portman stated that if they needed to cut items from the budget, they could take away her trailer instead. The next day, her trailer was gone.


REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod



“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.






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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?



What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.


For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.



world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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