No Strings Attached

So what if I caved and watched this movie? I was flying AirFrance, I had 10 hours to kill, and it was one of the many convenient On Demand movies. (They didn’t even pay me to say that.) I’m well aware of my weakness for chick flicks, and this definitely fell under that category. But I was actually surprised at how many times I laughed (maybe it was the altitude) and how much I ended up liking this movie. I guess this bodes well for Friends with Benefits, which apparently is the same movie but with actors I enjoy more. Comparison to come.

So, Ashton Kutcher. Not my favorite person, but it’s hard to deny his charm. His look is that of a perpetual frat boy, which is not entirely his fault——baby-faced into your mid-thirties is just genetics——yet I actually found myself rooting for him in this film. He went after Natalie Portman’s character, who wasn’t so much likable as she was super-hot, so for all intents and purposes, I see why he did what he did. He turned his fuck buddy into his girlfriend, and that was that. Nice work. But that’s not why I liked the movie. What pleased me was (a) the surprisingly high proportion of foul language and (b) the fact that the female character was the one who screwed up. She was the one driving back to him in the rain, she was the one who lacked all shreds of sensitivity, she was the one making rational decisions. I realize that all of this is, of course, reducing men and women to very basic stereotypes, but I just can’t stand it when movies depict the dude being the one who “chases” the girl and “realizes what he did wrong” and all that. Sometimes girls fuck up, too. We don’t necessarily have the balls (literally) to go back and fix the mistake, either, but at least this movie gives us a nice pretty picture of what might happen if we did.

The supporting cast, however empty their roles were, was hilarious. Kevin Kline as Kutcher’s playboy dad? Love it. Mindy Kaling as Portman’s witty best friend? Yes please. Jake Johnson and Ludacris as Kutcher’s semi-level-headed best friends? Good call. And Lake Bell as Kutcher’s lusty co-worker? I cannot think of a better person to play that minuscule part. I only wish she had been on-screen more, displaying her talent at creating awkward moments for the whole world to see.

So there you have it. Either I’m a sucker for bad movies, or this one wasn’t actually that bad. After all, the woman who wrote it (Elizabeth Meriweather) also wrote the pilot for Zooey Deschanel’s new show, which doesn’t look half bad. She also, apparently, has a thing for Jake Johnson. More power to her.

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Black Swan

The big question about this movie: Did she die at the end? Here’s my answer. Spoiler alert. I think so.

This movie had no deep meaning for me. As much as I’d like to think that I understand Nina Sayers’ struggle as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, I have absolutely no connection to her. I’ve wanted things badly before, but I’ve never reached that level of disillusionment to attain them. When it comes down to it, Black Swan is a fun, exciting, thrilling story. That’s it. No real take-away message, other than maybe “Don’t be a ballet dancer.” The only message that would have lingered would have existed if Nina had lived.

Of course, it wasn’t a bad movie. It was incredibly shot, and incredibly acted. The mirrors, the animations, the handheld shots, all of this contributed to the increasingly paranoid, claustrophobic feel of the movie. Bravo, Darren Aronofsky. And Natalie Portman achieved something special in this movie, something that she’ll look back on, I imagine, with equal parts pain and pleasure. She had to sacrifice a lot of her body to pull off this role, to appear as sinewy and starved as a dancer, yet toned and talented as a star. I also loved seeing Mila Kunis in a more serious, dangerous role. That woman is so much more capable an actress than her past comedies have afforded her. And then there was Vincent Cassel. He was everything he was supposed to be: terrifying, seductive, and brilliant.

I think the scariest aspect of the movie, for me, wasn’t the Linda Blair-esque Winona Ryder body in the room, or the scaly feather growing out of her skin, or even the cuticle being ripped from her finger, which definitely did make me cringe. No, it was knowing that a story like Swan Lake was so mainstream, admirable, classic, regarded. I realized that I had never actually seen Swan Lake before, and that this movie was my twisted introduction to it. Knowing what I know now about the show’s darkness and loneliness, I’m not sure I’d actually want to see it. Black Swan, in all its extraordinary terror, was more than enough.

New York, I Love You

One thing’s for sure: This series-of-short-films film wasn’t nearly as good as the original. The different movies didn’t really flow into each other, the realms of reality and fiction and all that were sort of blurred, and the editing was… off. Yet I still enjoyed watching it. I guess that means I’m a romantic, eh?

There’s something about ethereal, couple-filled footage of big cities that captivates me. I’m a firm believer that big urban spaces—like New York, of course, but also Chicago, San Francisco, Madrid, to name a few I’ve actually been to—have this unique, intangible, romantic quality about them. And even though this movie wasn’t assembled seamlessly, it definitely conveyed this quality that New York has. People say Paris is the most romantic city in the world, and maybe that’s why Paris Je T’aime was made first. But I think New York is incredibly seductive, because of its infinite possibilities. How can you not be taken in by that?

A few of these short films, in particular, struck me. I loved both of Natalie Portman’s; in one, she was the wife of a strict Hasidic Jew, and she directed the other, about a divorced, doting dad. These are two worlds I know nothing about, and yet in those 10 or so minutes spent on each, I felt like I was in on some sort of secret. The other one that I loved, and the only one that made me tear up, involved Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach, bickering as an old married couple is wont to do. Simple, yet it melted me. Many other actors I enjoy watching, like Rachel Bilson, Chris Cooper, Maggie Q, Shia LaBeouf, and Andy Garcia, also made appearances. It’s nice to see so many talented faces under one roof, I suppose.

I do wish this film had turned out much better, because New York is a city that deserves every film made about its ability to seduce. And maybe that’s the problem with this one—it was made too late. We’ve seen too many stories about New York, we know we love it. There are shirts made. Maybe this movie was just too redundant.