Encapsulated Cinema: Rare Exports, Merantau, and Black Swan

People don’t believe me when I say that “Black Swan” is an awful motion picture. Out of all of the movies I’ve seen over the course of 2010, it’s easily the most disappointing. In order to give people perspective on what, exactly, I look for in a film, I’ve included two mini-reviews for a pair of flicks that have thoroughly and completely impressed yours truly. Maybe then you’ll understand why “Black Swan” didn’t settle well with me. Enjoy!

Rare Exports
Director Jalmari Helander’s Christmas-related horror outing has been on my cinematic radar for a while now, and my expectations were admittedly extremely high. Fortunately for me, this exceptionally entertaining tale of a murderous Santa Claus wreaking havoc in the Korvatunturi mountains delivered the goods in every way imaginable. The picture, which finds a young boy and his father attempting to wrangle the aforementioned holiday icon before his diabolical deeds can reach beyond their borders, strongly reminded me of a gorier, scarier version of Fred Dekker’s “The Monster Squad”. That, of course, is an extremely strong compliment. And while everyone in the flick does an incredible job of making this decidedly silly concept seem plausible, it’s young star Onni Tommila who shines the brightest. Add to that a few last-minute twists, a handful of gory surprises, and an ending that explains the picture’s unusual title and you’ve got a movie that has cemented its place in my holiday viewing schedule for years to come.

Emotionally-charged martial arts flicks are the bee’s knees, particularly if said motion picture comes packaged with several hearty slices of well-choreographed fights. Gareth Evans’ Indonesian kung fu outing “Merantau” certainly ranks with the best of them, stuffing as much action-oriented madness into this violent coming-of-age saga as humanly possible. Specifically, the film chronicles the adventures of a young man named Yuda, who is venturing out into the cruel world for the very first time. Not surprisingly, he soon finds himself locking horns with members of the local sex trade, a seedy bunch of individuals who are ill-prepared to handle our hero’s efficient and fluid brand of ass-kickery. Although the first half-hour may lead you to believe that you’re actually watching a touching family drama, the film soon picks up the pace, and before you know it, you’re knee-deep in broken bones and bloody concussions. And while the picture’s downbeat finale is somewhat disappointing, it actually suits the story very well. Impressive work.

Black Swan
Before putting together my Top 10 list for the year that was 2010, I decided to take in a screening of Darren Aronofsky’s latest effort “Black Swan”, a film which has received a lot of critical praise as of late. Truth be told, I simply cannot understand why. The film — a fetid yawner about a homely ballerina who loses her pretty little mind preparing for a performance of “Swan Lake” — is one of the most boring and woefully anti-climatic tales I’ve had to sit through all year. Not only is the picture predictable and hideously paced, lead bulimic Natalie Portman has all the sexuality of a pair of soiled penny loafers. What we have here, essentially, is a glossy and frequently pretentious adaptation of Nicholas Hytner’s 2000 teenage drama “Center Stage”, complete with built-in mommy issues and a goofy “hot for teacher” subplot. As devoted followers of all things Aronofsky, I am deeply disappointed. To be fair, every great director stumbles at some point in their career, so I’ll simply consider “Black Swan” to be the talented filmmaker’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and move on. Don’t believe the hype. At all.