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The King’s Speech, The Tourist, Black Swan, Trigger and Enter the Void

 

Colin Firth as King George VI is terrified of the microphone in The King’s Speech. Helena Bonham Carter helps with support and finding a therapist.

The early batch of movies for the holidays are here, including a cross-Europe spree with Johnny and Angelina, a mad ballerina by Natalie Portman, two women rock and rollers and a stuttering king who’s destined to take some awards.

THE KING’S SPEECH: If you see only one movie over the holidays, make it this one. It’s literate, moving, funny, and inspirational. The acting is top notch by everyone and the script is excellent. Look for it to be nominated in several categories and protest if it doesn’t win a few.

 

On one level it’s a simple story of a man overcoming a handicap. We’ve seen those before. It’s not simple though because he just happens to be King George VI of England, Elizabeth’s father and the man charged with keeping up his subjects’ morale during World War 2. The medium was radio, which his father had told him changed everything. A modern monarch had to do more than just avoid falling off a horse. He had to talk and be heard right in people’s houses. George, as we saw in a painful 1925 speech, stuttered. His sentences would freeze on certain words and die in long pauses. Colin Firth is excellent conveying both his struggle and frustration, and then his fervent resistance to coming down from his regal airs when he goes to an unorthodox therapist played by Geoffrey Rush.

 

Their scenes together are very funny and then instructional. The theories about stammering and the solutions the film presents are absolutely accurate for their time. We get the Freudian take on what causes the condition—in this case a harsh father, a difficult childhood, low self-esteem. We get involved in George’s toils to correct his speech and are on edge when he has to give a radio address when war starts. Anyone who’s ever been afraid of public speaking will be moved by this film. It’s beautifully designed, easy-going, not at all stuffy, and graced with a fine cast of wonderful English (or Australian) actors. Guy Pearce is especially convincing as Edward, the brother who abdicated for a more pleasurable life with an American divorcee. I can’t think of anything that’s wrong with this film, except perhaps a brief slowdown about two thirds through. It’s a minor flaw.

(Park Theatre, Scotiabank)  4 ½ out of 5

 

BLACK SWAN: My granddaughter better not see this. She images that ballet is a gentle art as she dances around the living room in her frilly dress to an excerpt from Swan Lake. Natalie Portman at times seems to be in a horror movie performing to exactly the same music. This is a tough yarn about growing up, following the dictates of her ambition and breaking free of a smothering mother.

She plays a dancer in a New York City company who’s chosen to perform the lead in a new production of Swan Lake. With that she bumps an angry lead dancer (Wynona Ryder) out and starts feeling competition from a new arrival (Mila Kunis). Anxiety dreams beset her, including a particularly sensuous lesbian scene with Kunis and a frightening encounter with the ballet’s evil sorcerer. She still lives at home. There are pink and white stuffed toys in her bedroom and her interfering mother (Barbara Hershey) keeps her under her control. At rehearsals, the company director (Vincent Cassel) says she has to get her sex life started. Innocence will do to dance the white swan; passion is necessary for the black one. Rumors start about what she did to be chosen for the lead. Under all these pressures, she starts going mad. The film documents the progression through tense and intense scenes, following a parallel with the Swan Lake story a little too closely. Darren Aronofsky, who’s last film was The Wrestler, takes an atmospheric film to an overwrought and somewhat ludicrous final level. You won’t get bored, though. (5th Avenue, Scotiabank)  3 ½ out of 5

THE TOURIST: It’s like those bright, colorful Euro-thrillers we used to get back in the 1970s, except for one important thing. It’s short on thrills. And car chases. Gunplay. Sexual chemistry. All the good stuff. What fun it does have, and it is considerable, is in the carefully plotted intrigue and mystery. Angelina Jolie plays a self-confident seductress (no stretch there) who is really a police agent. She subtly comes on to Johnny Depp on a train and leads him to Venice. (Trains and great locations are a plus in these films).

 

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